It Ain’t Over ‘Til…It’s Over
Thursday, November 4, 2004
The farther you got from the bar at Democratic Party headquarters in Monterey on Tuesday night, the gloomier the crowd grew. In the back, where volunteers poured wine and beer, and snacks lined several tables along the wall, there was still a convivial enough hubbub at 10:15pm. Democrats arrayed before the television in the corner cheered wildly as progress reports poured in showing Kerry ahead in Wisconsin, Michigan, Nevada, Washington, Hawaii and Minnesota. But in front, two dozen glum Kerry supporters slumped in metal folding chairs staring moodily at CNN. And CNN was showing relatively good news, unlike NBC, which by that point had awarded Ohio to Bush.
By 11pm the weight of Bush’s lead in Ohio, deemed the state to win, had begun to crush the optimism in the back, too. People started to drift out.
“I don’t like what I’m hearing,” said volunteer Jennifer Opelt Jewell. “I don’t know what I’m gonna do if I have to come out of this denial.”
The mood shifted. There was conversation, nodded agreement: It didn’t matter what Wolf Blitzer said, it was not over. All those provisional ballots in Ohio… Florida in 2000 wasn’t over, for that matter. No; it wasn’t over.
Spencer Critchley, communications director at party headquarters, leaped to the next stone: hope for next time. The massive volunteer turnout heralded nothing less than a reinvigoration for the whole party, he said. Changing demographics were turning the country blue.
“It looks scary at this moment, but I actually think in 2008 we’re going to find a Democratic victory is inevitable,” he said.
More news: unthinkably, Tom Daschle, Democratic Senate leader from South Dakota, had lost his seat to Republican challenger and former Representative John Thune. Redistricting in Texas, rammed through on an off year by state Republicans with support from a shrewd-eyed House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, had done what it was supposed to: Four veteran Texas Democrats had lost their seats in the House.
Suddenly the imminent arrival of Sam Farr took on added significance. When he and wife Shary entered shortly after 11pm, heads swiveled eagerly. Here was living assurance that not everything had changed.
Farr, looking tired, smiled for the camera. But moments later, away from the lens, he shed all appearance of sanguinity. Two years ago he had told the Weekly he had never seen anything like the deadlock in Congress over the budget. Then he was angry, frustrated. Now he seemed mostly weary and bitter as he contemplated the loss of party veterans and the coming years of subservience to an imperious and relentlessly striving Republican House leadership.
“I think it’s gonna get worse,” he said. “The Republicans have picked up seats in the Senate, and defeated some wonderful people in the Senate and the House, oldtimers. They’re gonna be so gleeful. If Bush wins it’s gonna be like ‘we can do anything.’ They’re going to realize it and push to privatize social security, privatize health care.”
Asked how it happened, Farr furrowed his brow. “I don’t know. The shock here at this headquarters and across the nation—there was a great feeling that momentum was on John Kerry’s side. The nation isn’t supporting Iraq, the world isn’t supporting the direction he’s headed. A lot of his policies have just a slim margin of support…” Farr frowned.
“So I think the big question is, what happens to America? Where do we go from here? We had historical participation, but these young kids, they’re so used to immediate gratification, if they don’t win this time, what happens? Did we turn ‘em on or did we turn ‘em off? I don’t know.”
Farr’s chief of staff, Rochelle Dornatt, looked resolute as always, a hard look in her eye, her small face composed. “I guess we have to be turtles in this race,” she said. “You can’t give up. You can’t let them have it. You just can’t.”
More news over CNN. Kerry had taken Michigan, Minnesota, Hawaii. It was 11:34 pm—past the eleventh hour, but the two dozen people who remained took heart. Hope rippled through the room as Farr, heading for the door, raised both arms and gave a victory pump.
“Never give up,” he called to no one and everyone. “Never give up.”