At Union Baptist Church's pre-dawn prayer service, many of the people filling the teal pews are dressed in jeans, their Obama-themed T-shirts peeking from beneath their coats. Others arrive with families in tow, their grade-school-age children still wearing pajamas adorned with "Yes, we can" stickers.
"Father God, we come to you in a time of great change," proclaims the Rev. Kenneth R. Hammond, who pastors at the church. "This is our day." The crowd erupts.
Union Baptist held its first sunrise Election Day service in 1998, the year that a long-haired trial lawyer named John Edwards upset incumbent Republican Lauch Faircloth, giving Democrats in North Carolina a check against the state's other U.S. senator, Jesse Helms.
This Election Day has the potential to be just as transcendent, says Hammond before assuring the assembled congregation that, "If any of you who haven't voted yet want to tiptoe out and go get in line at the poll, I'm not gonna be mad at ya. I have little respect for folk who criticize but don't take the time to vote."
Before sending the congregation back into the morning drizzle, Hammond delivers an abbreviated sermon on the story of Christ, as told through the prism of an election. "Now you know me by now, and I don't tell anyone who to vote for, while I'm in the pulpit," he says, before sauntering around the lectern and onto the church floor. "But my candidate [Jesus], when he rode into Jerusalem, he did it on a donkey—not an elephant."
The crowd erupts again.
Later in the day, Fred Foster, a retired state employee, anxiously sits in his SUV. Since 9 a.m., he's been working on behalf of the Durham Prepared Meals Tax Committee, fielding calls for those needing rides to the polls.
At noon, he left his post at the Durham Visitors Center to deliver lunches of fried chicken to the committee's poll workers, who are distributing pro-tax flyers to voters. But tax opponents, he says, are out in force today. "Their poll workers outnumber ours 2 to 1," he says. "Right now, we're serious underdogs."
Pulling up to the Precinct 23 polling place, Foster can't find his poll worker. After asking other volunteers in the parking lot of her whereabouts, he learns that the volunteer had only spent an hour handing out flyers before leaving.
Foster shakes his head and returns to the driver's seat.
"This is not what we need right now," he says. The meals tax went on to fail by a 3-to-1 margin.
Spirits at the downtown Barack 'n' Roll rally later that night are more upbeat. The rain continues to fall, but the 400 jubilant people pack the plaza across from Blue Coffee Cafe. The crowd is a reflection of Obama's appeal: There are people of all ages and ethnicities standing before the projection screen, awaiting election returns—many of them braving the rain to witness history.
Stacy Scott stands near the back of the pack, nuzzling her 8-month-old daughter who is covered with a pink blanket. Her other daughter runs circles around her, as she watches dethroned U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole struggle through her concession speech.
"If he wins tonight, if he can do this, then I can tell my kids tomorrow that anything is possible," she says.
Across the street, the crowd inside Blue Coffee yells. Seconds later, the news flashes across the screen: Barack Obama is the newly elected president of the United States. As the crowd begins to chant "Yes, we did," Scott holds her daughters close. Tears well up in her eyes. "Remember this," she says.