Drinking with the Dems on Election Night in Las Vegas


Avoiding Election Day results in this age of information overload and constant connectivity isn’t an easy task. My plan was this: Avoid polling results until I got to the Nevada Democratic Party Election Night bash at the Rio All-Suites Hotel. I wanted to be surprised, I wanted to get caught up in the moment, I didn’t want to emotionally rise and fall throughout the hours leading up to the eventual declaration and concession.

I did pretty well. At about 5 p.m., an hour after polls closed on the East Coast, a friend started to tell me how many electoral votes were called for Sen. Barack Obama. I shut her up quickly. When I got home, I avoided radio and internet, going straight into the kitchen to make dinner and absorbing no more information beyond a 20-year-old comic book. Before leaving for the Rio, I logged onto Twitter to announce my destination. And that’s when I caught the page full of tweets relaying the news that Ohio had been called for Obama. That could have been the end right there.

Driving in my car on surprisingly quiet streets, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) was being interviewed on NPR. This is a man who helped lead the Civil Rights Movement, who marched right along with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was beaten by a white mob in his youth. Listening to him talk brought the first of a number of tears last night to my eyes.

obama_tieI submitted a request for credentials to the party at the Rio’s Pavilion meeting rooms, but ended up not needing any. This celebration was open to the public, and boy, did the public turn out. Say what you will about party politics, but one thing I’ve noticed in attendance at both Obama rallies and this Election Night party is that the Democratic base is the definition of diverse: All colors, ages, creeds, sizes, shapes and abilities were represented in the Brasilia Ballroom. This is what America looks like.

A giant screen projected a live broadcast from MSNBC, while smaller, flat screen monitors scattered throughout the massive ballroom displayed live reports from Fox News, CNN and the like. One section of the room was specifically designated for the hearing, mobility and sight impaired, complete with sign language interpreters and handicap accommodations. Cash bars were well distributed throughout the room, and a decent appetizer buffet set behind the press riser fed a hungry line all night.

There were important local and state races all around, including two U.S. Congressional seats, a number of State Assembly seats and a County Commission opening. But it was obvious why the party was flooded with people – obvious by their T-shirts, buttons, signs, accessories and banners: Last night was all about Barack Obama. Every time the giant screen displayed another winning state called for Obama, the crowd cheered. Actually, the crowd may have just cheered every time someone bought a drink. It was hard to tell. The sheer jubilance in the room was energizing.

But that feeling of anticipation I’d hoped for was all but impossible to attain. I arrived just a little after 7 p.m., and already Obama had 207 votes to Sen. John McCain’s 130 or so. And polls had still not closed on the West Coast. At about 7:30, I remarked to a friend that this thing would be over by 10 p.m. I should have put money on that.

Somewhere about 8:30, a Democratic Party official climbed behind the podium on the stage beneath the giant screen to make an announcement: The room was at capacity – those who were present needed to stay there, and no more folks were being let into the Brasilia Ballroom. Already an overflow room across the hall was being used. And then, as the speaker was talking mundanely about which restrooms for guests to use, it happened.

The room erupted. Screams and shouts and claps and cries and tears and hugs. That could mean only one thing, of course. And sure enough, as I peered through the throng of bodies between me and the nearby television, I saw the numbers on screen: Obama suddenly had somewhere in the neighborhood of 287 votes. The West Coast must have reported. It happened so quickly, so suddenly, it almost didn’t feel real.

We drank smuggled beers, making toasts and sharing in unified victory with strangers as we watched the numbers rise … by the time Obama leapt in a single bound over the 300 mark, we were out of that “worry zone” that something might go wrong, as it did in the hotly contested 2000 race. It was over. The Republican pundit on MSNBC knew it long before then, John McCain’s own advisers knew it long before then, but this was it. McCain’s pale, waxy face appeared on the giant screen as he made his concession speech. Aside from a few scattered boos, the Democrats in house were surprisingly respectful. They cheered his speech numerous times – not with the enthusiasm given to the winner, but with a sincere sentiment of “good game.”

But of course, the room swelled again in sheer political ecstasy as the live broadcast switched to Chicago, and now-President-Elect Obama took to his podium to deliver his victory speech to a sea of faces representing every walk of human life in this nation. It was moving and elating even if we all were heading toward the intoxicated side of our celebrating.

Rep. Shelley Berkley, who easily trounced her opponents last night with more than 67 percent of the vote, briefly addressed the crowd, dishing out the appropriate thanks to Democratic Party officials, volunteers, supporters, etc. Also in attendance – that I could see – were Dina Titus, who nabbed the District 3 Congressional seat from incumbent Jon Porter, Ellen Spiegel, who narrowly beat out Jon Ozark for State Assembly District 21 and Richard “Tick” Segerblom, who held onto his District 9 State Assembly seat with almost 67 percent of the vote.

Shortly after Berkley’s speech, the crowds began dissipating, mostly out into the casino to do more celebrating, but a healthy amount of people still remained in the ballrooms. The entire Rio that night was filled with (mostly drunken) cheers and chants of “yes we can” and “Obama!”

It remains to be seen what effect – good or bad – the renewed influence of the Democratic Party will have on American politics. We now technically live in a “blue state,” but that’s misleading, as only the extreme southern and northwestern tips of Nevada carried Obama last night, reinforcing the deep division between the population centers and the rural towns. And though the country overwhelmingly voted for its first African-American president, again, most of the “blue” states are located on one of the two coasts, which means a whole lot of people in the middle may be feeling disenfranchised if our newly-elected President cannot fulfill his promise of unity, community and working toward nonpartisan solutions.

Meanwhile, I just hope my car is still in one piece in the Rio parking lot. Well, you know what they say about the audacity of hope …

One Response to “Drinking with the Dems on Election Night in Las Vegas”

  1. Sounds like fun. I wish you had invited me!