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Non-ticket holders claim spots early in front of Grant Park viewing screen

CHICAGO – By late morning, a sea of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama supporters flowed into Grant Park. By mid-afternoon, that crowd swelled to nearly 1,000 – and that was just a small stream of non-ticket holders for the election night rally.

But they didn’t mind that they were not going to be able to be in the same area as Obama later in the evening.

No ticket was needed to enjoy what they expected would be a historic night.

“Will you take a picture of me with the jumbotron in the background?” Grace Hughes asked the Defender. Hughes, a native New Yorker who now lives in north suburban Naperville, said she has to have the proof to document that she was in the “place to be”

Wearing a T-shirt with Obama’s picture and the words “Express Yourself” at the bottom that she purchased at a Madonna concert last week, Hughes said she wouldn’t dare miss the event.

“I’m here to support my candidate, Barack Obama, and I’m not leaving until he is announced the winner,” she said.

Supporters of the White House hopeful –– young, old, black, white, Asian, Hispanic –– set up camp in Grant Park near the Petrillo Band Shell. They watched election coverage provided by CNN while they waited for the festivities to begin after the polls were to close at 7 p.m.

A little closer to the screen members of a family of four unpacked a multitude of snacks. Gaylord Minett and his three daughters sat on a blanket and had a small picnic. He told the Chicago Defender that it was imperative that his children got a chance to experience history.

“I want to see Barack win this. I want them to definitely be here to see him win this. There’s just no other way to put it. This is too important for them to not witness it firsthand,” the 40-year-old father said about his daughters, who range in age from 6 to 12.

Minett said his family was prepared to stay late – but not too late. He has to make sure the girls won’t be too sleepy for school tomorrow.

“Hopefully there won’t be any mistakes at the polls, and the announcement will come around 10 p.m. at the latest. I’m ready to get this thing wrapped up,” he said.

Justin Sumulong, 24, and Sheela Cardeno, 21, both from Chicago, are first-time voters who said they never thought they would see this in their lifetime.

“It’s happening right in front of my eyes. I couldn’t have imagined this day coming at all. We talk about this kind of stuff in our history class, but to actually see and experience it, it’s amazing,” said Cardeno, a student at Loyola University Chicago.

Sumulong echoed her sentiments.

“It’s time for this to happen, and we will be here all night,” he said.

Gabrielle Kilby, and her companion, Keith Fisher, are Springfield, Ill., residents who said they’ve been with Obama since the beginning.

 “We froze our butts off in Springfield when he made the announcement to run for president. It was about seven degrees then. And we’re here now for another announcement,” said Kilby, 32.

Fisher, 40, and Kilby plan to celebrate all night, head back to Springfield Wednesday evening, then start planning for the inauguration in January.

“Tonight’s the night,” said Fisher.

(Kathy Chaney reports for the Chicago Defender)

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