"Listen," Raymond continued, now turning his shoulders to us. "You're here. You came here. You left the hotel. You walk these streets, you allow your path to be chosen by me, by [jerking a thumb toward the cabbie] this driver. You invite things to happen. You open the door. You inhale. And if you inhale chaos, you give the chaos, and chaos gives back. You know this?"
As Obama often said: "I do not want to let them down."
"Them" meant people like the high-school-aged group of young men, a rainbow of ethnicities, that I saw on the street the day before the election, some wearing Obama gear, talking excitedly about states and polls and what they thought our chances were. I had stopped and pretended to tie my shoe while eavesdropping, wanting to soak in the moment, because I knew I might never witness another one like it. I felt a deep obligation to make sure those kids were celebrating the next night so they might be following and talking about elections for decades to come.
In between calls, I went for a quick run outside, largely to try to wake myself up. As I was running through the gorgeous Ole Miss campus, I came upon a sign reading CONFEDERATE DRIVE. I don't like to break pace when I'm running, but it stopped me dead in my tracks. I stared at the sign for a while. As I've mentioned, we were all so close to the race that it was hard to get any perspective when it came to the implications of Barack's run. Random things would occasionally provide a cue, and this sign was one of them. Looking up at the street name, it washed over me at that moment that Barack Obama, a major-party presidential nominee, would attend a debate that night -- whether it happened or not -- on the same campus where less than fifty years earlier, federal troops had to protect James Meredith as he simply tried to attend classes.
Our supporters also played an invaluable role in motivating and inspiring Barack and all of his staff. Dozens of times Barack and I marveled at the commitment and talent of our grassroots supporters and pledged not to let them down. "I feel such an obligation to them," he would say. "They believed in me. In us. In themselves. What keeps me going day after day? Besides a clear sense of why I am running for president, it's them, our volunteers. It is a special thing we've built here and I don't want to let them down."
The political history nerd in me would have loved to win 270-268, through a combination of all the Kerry states, Iowa, New Mexico, Nevada, and one vote from Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District to put us over the top. I mused to Obama about this scenario, remarking how unusual and historic it would be. In some ways it would resemble our primary win, where we stitched together an unlikely electoral path. "Plouffe, that's interesting daydreaming," he said, laughing. "Let's try not to have it all come down to Nebraska 2."
After all the speeches and celebrations, right before the motorcade to the airport pulled out, Obama spent some private time with our senior Iowa staff. I didn't go in because I wanted it to be their moment, and theirs alone. They had just made history. I was told it was emotional on both sides. Obama emerged from the room red-eyed and said quietly, "I love those kids."
Americans were expressing not merely satisfaction at the victory of a political party or candidate, or relief that the lesser of two evils had prevailed, but somehow something deeper and more profound. Their reactions were closer to a kind of primal joy at seeing wrongs righted, at having risen up to achieve something cynics said couldn't be done. For most of us under a certain age, any prior familiarity with this feeling came secondhand, from history books. Now we owned it.