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As the faces on 'Fox News' got gloomier, the bar got merrier

Thursday, 8 November 2012 - 8:42am IST | Place: Chicago | Agency: The Daily Telegraph

Unlike the British, who follow election results slumped blearily on their cozy sofas, but Americans preferred to do it in a bar, where pool tables, buffalo chicken wings and jumbo beer glasses are close at hand.

Wherever you looked, you were looking at a television. Every available surface seemed to have been fitted with a screen. Only the gents' (and presumably the ladies', although I didn't check in person) contained no television sets — but they did contain loudspeakers piping in the sound from CNN, so that no drinker need miss a second of the unfolding action.

The bar, in downtown Chicago (Obama's home city), was packed. Traditionally, we British follow our election results slumped blearily on our sofas at home, but Americans prefer to do it in a bar, where pool tables, buffalo chicken wings and jumbo beer glasses are close at hand. It felt as if we were glued to a political version of the Super Bowl.

To begin with, the mood in the bar was surprisingly lacking in tension - jocular, even. It helped that, early on, Mitt Romney lost Michigan, his "home state". "He won't be too worried about that," explained the man next to me. "He owns loadsa homes, so he probably has about six more home states to come."

Presumably in the interests of political balance, the TV screens weren't all showing the same channel: half were tuned to CNN, half to Fox News, affording each drinker a choice between a liberal slant and a conservative slant. Or, in the words of the thirsty but cheerful man on the stool to my left, a choice between "brunette and blonde".

It was true: there did seem to be a certain pattern when it came to the female anchors. Still, all of them did have at least two things in common: they were young (or young-looking) and thin. To be a male analyst, by contrast, you apparently need to be middle-aged and fat; it seems to be an actual requirement of the job. All over the US there are probably countless wannabe male analysts desperately dying their hair grey and stuffing themselves with KFC.

While the bar was bubbling (beer, laughter, snacks by the bucket), the streets, traffic aside, were more or less empty. The cold and rain may possibly have had something to do with that — Chicago in November is not a place to revel outdoors unless you enjoy the sensation of your eyelashes frosting together — but then, it hadn't been the height of summer when Obama won in 2008, and that didn't stop a quarter of a million people rushing gleefully to the local park.

This time, though, Chicago was staying firmly indoors. Even when I stumbled hotel-wards at the end of the night, the city was quiet: I didn't hear a single car horn tooted in joy. By 8pm, the faces on Fox were already gloomy. And as the faces on Fox got gloomier, the bar got merrier. We still had few confirmed results, but we knew Barack Obama was on course by the way Fox's top analyst was grumbling about the greed and self-interest of Obama's supporters (apparently they only vote Democrat because they "want stuff").

Not much later, Fox called it: Obama was certain of victory. Delirium in the bar. Whoops, screams, hugs. Back-patting, fist-clenching, air-punching. A barman applauded the nearest TV. It might not have been the kind of unbridled ecstasy with which Democrat voters greeted Obama's 2008 win, but the drinkers of Chicago were still happy. Obama's performance as president over the past four years was, for the moment, irrelevant: the fact was, he was their guy, and he'd beaten the other guys' guy. For brief moments like this, politics is sport: as long as you win, no one cares how poorly you've played.

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