Polls had predicted a victory for weeks. It was pretty much a lock in Minnesota. But when CNN declared Barack Obama the next president of the United States, many in the state were overwhelmed by the magnitude of the moment.
There was crying and hugging and shouts of "Thank you Jesus!" in a cafe in Uptown Minneapolis. People with ears locked to cell phones, eyes to TVs, called family and friends, trying to savor the moment the same way Americans recalled landing on the moon.
In Maple Grove, Keli Holtmeyer said the symbolism -- "a step towards acceptance of people of all races, sexual orientations and genders" -- brought her to tears.
And on the campus of the University of Minnesota, a senior psychology and sociology major from Somalia, said she was involved in two car accidents. "It's a wonderful day," Hanan Osman exclaimed.
From Richfield to Bloomington and Monticello to Maplewood, Minnesotans were eager to share their Obama stories -- before and after it became clear that the charismatic black man would be the next president of the United States.
As the polls opened, Rob Ramer of St. Paul was out on the Dale Street bridge overlooking I-94, waving Obama signs. A school bus came by and a bored African American kid caught Ramer's eye.
"I waved my Obama sign. He waved back. I shouted O-Ba-MA! He pulled the window down and shouted it back. In a few seconds the whole bus load of kids opened their windows and they were all sticking their heads out the window chanting O-BA-MA! Cars on the bridge started honking! It was pandemonium!" Ramer recalled.
Helen Peterson and her husband were leaving the polling place at the State Patrol Building in Golden Valley when a young black man with a huge smile on his face exploded out of the doors of the building.
"He spun around three times in the most exuberant, happy dance and skipped down the driveway to his car with his fists pumping the air. It made me tear up a little," Peterson said. "We vote, and we vote knowing our vote can make a difference, but never have we been so thrilled making our vote."
Polls closed at 8 p.m. across Minnesota after voters packed high school gyms, churches and community halls across the state to have their say on issues from school levies to the next president. The presidential race, at least, turned out to be an easy call. Within 10 minutes of the polls closing, the Associated Press reported.
State election officials were predicting an 80-plus percent voter turnout -- numbers not seen since Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson battled in 1956. People apparently got the message to come early if they could. As 8 p.m. approached tonight, several polling places in uptown Minneapolis were virtually deserted with poll watchers saying the evening traffic wasn't nearly as heavy as the morning rush.
Lines at the polls were reminiscent of the throngs of people who waited to see Obama June 3, when thousands of people packed the Xcel Energy Center to hear him announce he had the votes to be the Democratic Party nominee for president. People hoped to hear Obama speak that day about issues from college tuition to the war on Iraq. But most of all, they said they just wanted to see him on the night he was declared the Democratic nominee.
Brian Grandison of St. Paul was there. At the time, he said the milestone would be "empty and meaningless" if the Illinois senator wasn't elected president. On Tuesday, Grandison, an African American, talked about the once-improbable victory.
"This is something my mother never dreamed would happen or my grandparents would have thought possible," he said.
Obama acknowledged his victory -- and its historic nature -- to a huge crowd in Chicago's Grant Park Tuesday night shortly after Sen. John McCain conceded the race. Grandison said when the Republican presidential candidate made his concession speech he started to cry. "He also should be thanked because he did give his all to our country."
But, he added, it was his daughter, who voted for the first time Tuesday, who really inspired him. "She voted and she makes me want to do more to make this country better."
Chris Bonnema of Bloomington, who shared the moment with his wife, said Obama's victory might mean the nation has gotten by racism. "It also means that we have realized that electing people who look and act exactly like the people before them only gets us where we have been before," he said.
Elijah Freeman, a college student from Eden Prairie, said the night was "something that will be put in books for our grandkids and our own kids to read, and we can tell them we went and made history.
"I'm just very happy that somebody could come from nothing to something, take over a nation and have a lot of people come behind them and unite us as Americans It's exciting to me to see that times are changing."
Added Allie Bivona a sophomore majoring in global studies and journalism: "I just knew that everybody wanted change -- even, maybe, the Republican Party."
Cari Lucas of Nisswa said America needs improvement, not the fundamental change Obama has promised.
"Obama's change will make me poorer as more of my money will be taken and given to others who did not earn it," she said. "America has taken a turn for the worse. Obama voters do not know how good they had it."
(Reporters Marty Moylen, Michael Caputo and Whitney Stark contributed to this report.)