Within earshot of where the nation’s last Democratic president once played his saxophone on the steps of City Hall, sweet music flowed for supporters of president-elect Barack Obama as midnight approached in downtown Macon on Tuesday.
Sounds of jubilation, in the form of cheers, claps and honking car horns, echoed up and down Cotton Avenue near Obama’s local campaign headquarters, next door to the town’s famed Nu-Way hot dog stand.
Obama fans hugged one another and some sobbed as word of the Illinois senator’s election-night triumph emerged. “It’s worth crying for,” reveler and Mercer University professor Chester Fontenot said. “This is historic. ... There is a sense of good things to come. Just flat-out incredible.”
Throughout the day, it didn’t seem to matter to Middle Georgians that their state wasn’t exactly up for grabs when it came to picking a president. The Peach State has leaned Republican in every presidential race since 1992 when then-Arkansas-Gov. Bill Clinton edged incumbent George H.W. Bush by less than a percentage point. And, on Tuesday, Georgia favored the GOP nominee again.
With nearly 90 percent of the state’s votes counted, Sen. John McCain led Obama by about an 11-percent margin. McCain had garnered 55 percent of the vote to Obama’s 44 percent, a spread that was about 7 percent smaller than President George W. Bush’s win over Sen. John Kerry four years ago.
In Bibb County, Obama had received about 4,000 more votes than McCain, holding roughly a 15,000- to-11,000-vote lead with seven of the county’s 43 precincts not yet counted.
McCain led by a wide margins in Houston County — 30,000 to 20,000 votes — with all but one precinct in, and drew roughly twice as many votes as Obama in Monroe, Crawford and Jones counties. In Laurens County, with all but one precinct tallied, McCain was on top 9,900 to 3,100.
But as the national totals rolled in and Obama’s electoral vote count mounted, his supporters couldn’t help shaking their heads in near disbelief.
“It’s unbelievable,” Obama backer and stay-at-home mom Allison Berewa said in a back room at the Democrat’s downtown headquarters. “I was just thinking how this is something I knew would happen one day. But not this soon. ... It’s euphoric. I’m aware that there are going to be challenges, that it’s going to take all of us.”
Obama campaign volunteer Tiffany Brown, a math teacher at Northside High School in Warner Robins, stood in the darkness on Cotton Avenue late Tuesday trying to find a way to express her joy.
“There’s no words for it,” Brown, who spent six weeks registering voters and rallying support for Obama, said. “This is the best thing that I have accomplished in my life. ... This is like the best thing that’s ever happened on the face of the earth.”
East Macon political activist and avowed Democrat Ola Mae Ford, whose good graces have been sought by candidates in state and national races at her renowned backyard barbecues over the years, was in the same Atlanta University graduating class as Martin Luther King Jr.
But Ford, 85, who is African American and is sometimes referred to as the mayor of Fort Hill, was a bit wary of an Obama presidency.
“I guess you’ll be proud because he was black and ran,” Ford said. “But if he wins it doesn’t mean you’re gonna be proud. Because he won’t be able to do what he thinks he can do.”
Ford, who wouldn’t say who she’d voted for, wasn’t high on McCain either, figuring that the Arizona senator “would be just as good as Bush.”
Other midstate voters weren’t nearly as ambiguous about who they’d backed for commander in chief.
While first-time voter Maggie Cannon, a McCain supporter, was on her way to the polls Tuesday, she stood on a sidewalk near Riverside Drive in Macon telling a reporter how she and her fiance were doing “the whole, like, Joe the Plumber thing.”
“My fiance, we’re expecting a child, and he is currently starting his own [groundskeeping] business and we’re just worried about the whole small-business thing and what we’re going to have to pay,” Cannon, 25, said.
As she was talking, someone driving by in a Ford Explorer hollered, “Oh-Bah-Muuuh!”
“I just worry about the future,” she said.
McCain voter Dee Asbell, a 52-year-old hospice nurse, joked that if her guy doesn’t win “we might need to move to New Zealand.” Asbell, who has a “Sarah!” sticker in the rear window of her Mercedes SUV, was parked outside the Hutchings Career Center where she’d just cast her ballot.
“I think everyone wants a change,” she said, “and I don’t think that if Obama [wins] that it will be the change that everyone is hoping that they’ll receive.”
John David Pinkston, 24, a McCain supporter and pharmacy worker at Walgreens, said, “Hopefully either candidate will have some sort of plan for progress, for fixing the problems we have today. You know, let the best man win.”
Pinkston added, “I’ll be kind of sad that my vote didn’t contribute to a person getting elected, but if the country feels that Obama’s gonna do a better job, you know, that’s how it goes.”
David Bradford, 20, a Macon restaurant worker and college student working on a biology degree, voted for Obama.
Said Bradford, “I just want to have a job when I get out of school.”