With the music of a solidarity sing-a-along rising nearby on the Capitol Square, Jesse Gustafson read the news on his phone and his shoulders slumped.
The polls had been closed just a little more than an hour when the phones started lighting up in the gloaming with the alerts. One after another, the major news outlets were posting their headlines announcing that Republican Gov. Scott Walker was the likely winner over Democratic challenger Tom Barrett in Wisconsin's historic recall.
Gustafson, 25, a Madison autism therapist and Barrett supporter gathered his thoughts.
"We were outspent $30 million to $3 million," said Gustafson. "It's not terribly shocking we lost ... . It means we have to put Obama back in office. It's the only way we can pull any victory out of this now."
Around the square, more than a thousand people, almost entirely Barrett supporters, had gathered to await the results. All day, emotions that were first stoked amid the chanting and drumming in the Capitol rotunda during the chaotic spring of 2011 had been channeled into a last-minute fury of campaigning. And hope still held sway.
Then, as dark fell, Madison settled in for an anxious period of waiting, made even more tense by a day during which record numbers crowded polling places, and exit polls showed voters evenly split. Just as they did during March of last year, people seemed drawn to the glowing dome of the Capitol where a brass band played, drum circles formed and bagpipes wailed.
The wait was not long. And the news, when it came, seemed to suck the air out of the crowd. Some started peeling away and drifting off. Others expressed disbelief, reluctant to give up hope. And, for a while, many directed their disappointment and frustration at news networks that would call the race so early.
"Do not give up," one woman called as she walked through the crowd. "They're wrong."
Alicia Castaneda, 19, continued to stand on the Capitol steps holding a Recall Walker sign high above her head even after the race was called for Walker.
"I am really, really mad," said the MATC student. "We have worked for the last year and a half to get this man out of office."
She said her mother is a state worker who is now paying thousands of dollars more toward health insurance and pension.
"I slept in the Capitol. I campaigned for the recall elections. And just to see this day come is really sad."
Hannah Sugars, 22, a UW-Madison student and one of the few Walker supporters in the crowd, said she's relieved.
"Something needs to be done," said the business student from Fond du Lac. "You can't run a state on deficits."
One man, who would only identify himself as Brad, held a pro-Walker sign in a sea of recall supporters. He wouldn't give his last name because he said he's concerned about threats to his safety.
He said he's an independent contractor and pays his own health insurance. "It's about time public employees start chipping in a little of their own," he says.
Recall supporters frequently approached him to engage him in debate.
"I'm 72 and he's ruined our state, Mr. Walker," a woman next to him yelled out.
Matthew Gray, a teacher at Jefferson Middle School, said he was optimistic Tuesday morning when he saw an elderly woman wearing her Sunday best and a big grin giving him a thumbs up on her way to vote. "She knew what was at stake here," he said.
But when the news broke for Walker, his mood changed quickly.
"This was a watershed moment here for the country," he said. "It's apparent grass roots aren't good enough when you're battling millions and millions of corporate money. It's a big paradigm shift in this country and it was going to stop today."
With exit polls trending in Walker's favor earlier in the evening, some recall supporters had started girding themselves early.
"I'm nervous, very nervous," said Barrett supporter Christy Ruby, 31, of Madison, standing on the Capitol steps before the news of Barrett's defeat started spreading. "I've gone to every rally I could, canvassed, collected signatures, made phone calls. It was something I needed to do — something I couldn't not do."
Shannon Baruth drifted through the crowd in a wedding gown. She carried a pro-Barrett sign reading, "I (heart) Wisconsin."
"I get a lot more attention dressed like this," said Baruth, 37, a college student and mother of three. "The Wisconsin I love is progressive and forward-thinking, and we don't have that now. We have a civil war, and that's not the Wisconsin I love."
She said she was prepared for a Barrett loss. "I'm not going to cry my eyes out. I'm just going to keep working."
Earlier, 14 family members and friends of the Klehr family of Madison ate sandwiches for their dinner on blankets spread on the Capitol lawn, almost as though they were awaiting the first notes of a Concerts on the Square.
"We expect to be here until we know something," said Susan Nelson Willis, 43. "We've been involved all along. It just felt right to be here."
"This is our house," said Judy Klehr, 76, referring to the Capitol behind her.
Earlier, at Memorial Union, Brenda Englebretsen lessened the anxiety of waiting by focusing for a bit on another historic event that coincided with the recall vote. Near sunset, she joined a group gathered near the edge of Lake Mendota to catch a glimpse of the transit of Venus across the sun. It won't happen again until 2117.
But even that astronomical wonder could not pull Englebretsen's mind far from the politics of the day. She peered through special glasses to see the black speck inch across the sun and then drew away to talk about the recall.
A seventh grade teacher at Whitehorse Middle School, she was a regular at last year's Capitol protests. She's worried about cuts to education spending and what she describes as Walker's attempt to privatize education.
"No matter how the vote turns out, it's not over," she said, wearing a red MTI T-shirt. "No matter which way this goes, there's going to be a lot more work to do. It's going to take time. I see this as a decades-long fight. This isn't about one night."
As the day waned, many seemed still plugged into the current that had powered them through months of door-knocking and canvassing and phone-banking. With polls closed and their jobs suddenly done, they seemed at loose ends after days of intense campaigning.
Tony Reeves, a research analyst, was so amped he could hardly stop telling stories. He spent the weekend and Tuesday canvassing for Barrett. At one apartment complex he was shooed away by a landlord, at another house a Walker supporter "all but sicced the dog on me." But for the most part he said he came across Barrett supporters.
"I've talked to a lot of people who said 'I'm union. I admit it. Mea culpa. I voted for Walker. But I'm not going to do it again.'"
He said he knocked on the doors of 40 homes Tuesday.
But in yet another "only-in-Madison" moment, the Madison Unitarian Church announced Tuesday it is planning a post-recall healing service for this Sunday. The service, said Associate Minister Karen Gustafson, will seek ways Republicans and Democrats can move on beyond the acrimony of the last year and a half and "summon our better angels."
— State Journal reporters Matthew DeFour, Doug Erickson, and Deborah Ziff contributed to this report.