Before I get to Tuesday proper, let me write a bit about the 96-Hour Campaign. I'd been volunteering a couple times per week before this, but this was the final push to get Republicans out and to the polls. The week before this final push was pretty busy, though, getting all the materials for 96-Hour ready, preparing and putting up signs, recruiting College Republicans and showing themy Fahrenhype 9/11 and making lit drops.
I wound up mostly walking precincts, which wasn't the greatest thing to do, though I suppose it was better than phone banking. Don't get me wrong, I had fun, and it felt really good to be doing something to ensure the president's re-election, but I often felt like a jerk bothering people at home either by knocking on their door or calling them on the phone. Oh, and the dogs, don't get me started on that...
Still, the group of volunteers here in El Paso County did a great job, walking most of the precincts in the county on Saturday, and finishing them the next few days. Then there were all the people who made phone calls, and the fantastic team that organized everything and kept it going. We did our job in El Paso County. More on that in my next post.
When Election Day finally came, it almost felt to me like we'd done everything there was to do, but we still had to remind people one more time to vote. To that end, I spent the whole morning making phone calls, imploring people to go vote for George Bush and Pete Coors. By lunchtime, though, I was sick of that and wanted to get out and do something concrete, so I went out with some people in one of the famous vans to knock on people's doors and ask them if they wanted a ride to the polling place if they hadn't voted yet.
It was about the time we were heading out on the first of these missions when word started coming in of those exit polls. We were told, "Kerry's up 2 in Ohio and Florida, so get out and get every single vote." Panicked phone calls to people in those states confirmed that those were indeed what was being reported. A wave of fear and helplessness swept many in the campaign, and I was definitely among that number. We didn't want to be talking to voters in Colorado; we all wanted to drive to Florida and Ohio and drag Republicans to the polls. Since we couldn't, though, I figured in the worst-case scenario, by dragging voters to the Colorado polls, we could get Pete Coors in the Senate to help things. As we drove from house to house, we looked to Sean Hannity for the reassuring, "let not your heart be troubled," yet even he was discussing the numbers. Ever the optimist, though, he begged people to get out and vote everywhere and he brought on regional managers for the Bush campaign who tried to say the numbers were bogus, and that certainly provided some consolation. Though I was extremely worried, I have to thank Sean for trying to be a calming yet realistic voice. It helped get me through until the polls closed. By the way, it now appears those numbers were disseminated from the Kerry campaign.
Toward the end of Hannity's show, we were called back to reorganize and try some other precincts. I guess I must have been in the wrong ones, since every door I knocked on either no one was home or they'd already voted. I heard that in several other ones they got a whole bunch of people to come with them in the vans to vote.
With the polls still open for about an hour and forty-five minutes, we came to a consensus in our precinct that since we had found no one who hadn't voted, we should head back and see if there was anything else we could do. Getting back about an hour before the polls closed, I got on the phones one last time and called for about a half hour. By that point, though, it just felt like there was nothing else we could do without teleporting to Ohio. So, I helped with some clean-up activities and then headed to the county victory party.
I arrived about 45 minutes after the polls closed in Colorado and though few people were saying anything substantive about the national races, I was heartened to learn that it was clear that the vile Amendment 36 was clearly going to be defeated. This was, of course, the liberal scheme to split Colorado's electoral votes and steal some for Kerry. Fortunately, Coloradans realized what a horrible idea it was and did away with it.
When I got there, most of the Southeast had been called for Bush and most of the Northeast for Kerry. People were anxiously watching the numbers come in from Florida and Ohio as polls closed in the West. I was still incredibly worried. I later learned that it was at this point (actually even earlier) that Dick Morris, who had joined the ranks of the despondant earlier in the day, saw the numbers from Kentucky and Georgia and realized that Bush was doing much better than he had done four years earlier. I kind of wish I'd had those numbers in front of me. It's certainly possible that Brit Hume or someone mentioned them, but I could not hear the TV most of the night because it was a party, after all.
Disappointingly, there was little to eat. Most of the food had been consumed by the time I got there leaving only something that I could not decide if it was a wonton or gyoza. Either way it was a tasty but insufficient little dumpling.
Though I was nervous throughout the night, I was heartened as things progressed. The early numbers showed Bush ahead in New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Iowa. It was clear that Kerry would get Minnesota, which disappointed me, because I really wanted to believe Lileks, the Northern Alliance, and Hugh Hewitt that it would go for Bush. It also appeared that Pete Coors was winning and Arlen Specter was losing, the latter of which I had a good laugh about.
As the night wore on, Pete kept falling behind, New Hampshire and Wisconsin tightened, but Bush appeared to be building leads in crucial Ohio and Florida. Every time those two states scrolled past, people would see a slight Bush lead and then wait breathlessly for the number of precints reporting. Every time that percentage increased, a mighty cheer went up. It was like leading 4 goals to 3 in the last 5 minutes of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals and you're just begging every single second to drop off that clock faster and faster. It wasn't quite the "Miracle" game in 1980, though the stakes made it feel like that. What did get increasingly frustrating was the cowardice of the networks in calling certain states. Fox refused to call Florida until 97% of the precincts were in. But when they, did, oh man.
There were rousing cheers as states were called for Bush, boos as they were called for Kerry. Cheers for Fred Barns, jeers for Susan Estrich, cheers for John thune, Mel Martinez, Jim Demint, and Senator Bunning. But when Brit Hume said it was clear that with a 300,000 vote lead, Bush was the winner of Florida, there huge, sustained yelling and cheering. This was the way it should have gone in 2000, and one key to the door was in place. More importantly, most of us knew that Kerry could not win without Florida, and could at best tie, sending the vote to the House. But still, it was nerve-wracking.
Soon, though, the president built up an impressive lead in Ohio, and people began really believing it was going to happen. Then we saw Daschle falling and the excitement began to build. Our attention was briefly diverted as the El Paso County numbers began to come out and we saw Pete Coors, who had fallen behind by some 70,000 votes at that point suddenly get a 60,000 vote boost, thanks to us. But then, Fox called Ohio for Bush, and that was the true moment of catharsis. All the anxiety, the hope, and the earlier despair, just washed away in a wave of cheering and yelling. Bush was at 266. Then the chant, "One more state! One more state! One more state!" And we watched the numbers even closer. Would it be Wisconsin, Iowa, or the newly counting Nevada or New Mexico? Bush quickly took the lead in New Mexico and people chanted the name of our southern neighbor, hping Bush could pull through with those 20,000 votes.
Then the polls closed in Alaska and it was 269. "One more vote, one more vote!" But stubbornly, they would not declare New Mexico, Nevada was slow in reporting, Iowa remained agonizingly close, and Wisconsin and New Hampshire slipped from our grasp. Later, Kerry was given Minnesota and Hawaii, two disappointments, but we ust needed one more state.
It was about this time that the sobering news began to hit us all. Pete Coors was too far behind. El Paso County's only Democrat, State Rep. Mike Merrifield, whose wife had been caught on tape stealing signs, was soundly beating challenger Kent Lambert. And then came the shocker of the night: the Democrats had taken the Colorado House and Senate. Everyone was simply stunned. No one had any idea how this happened, and the various state officials in attendance started to scramble to find out what was going on.
And the night wore on with no decision in any of the remaining states. Energy returned when it was clear that Daschle had been truely Dumped. But people were tired and worried about local issues and bummed about Pete. The crowd thinned, and then Edwards came on vowing to "fight for every vote" in Ohio. At that point visions of Florida 2000 dominated and everyone simply decided to go home, because they were tired, and in my case, hungry.
Though it ended on a down note, the party really was a blast, and I'm sure I'll remember it for a long time. Wednesday morning was vindication, though, as Kerry took the high road and conceeded and Nevada was the state that pushed the president across the finish line.
I have to say that I count myself fortunate not only to be an American, a New Yorker, and a Coloradan, but to have been able to vote in and participate in two of the most memorable elections in American history. I'll be able to tell people I lived Florida 2000 and assisted in Campaign 2004. I just need a convention visit to make it complete.