About a month ago, two of my friends asked if they might come down to visit me for the election. I enthusiastically embraced the concept of election tourism, even if they hadn’t quite decided what should be involved. I was already expecting that this will be my only election to experience in the nation’s Capital, and probably at no other time will the results of the election have such a significant potential influence on my job. Having old friends to share the experience with would be icing on the cake.
I decided that election tourism must focus on the government and history rather than on DC’s wealth of museums, so on Sunday afternoon, I took my friends to see some of the newer monuments, on Monday we went to hear arguments at the Supreme Court, and on Tuesday, I used my connections to get us a tour of the Capitol that included gallery passes to see the House and Senate Chambers. I’ll write about those experiences at some point, but they seemed a fitting framework for Tuesday night’s election.
The most important decision, I felt, was where my election tourists should spend Tuesday night watching the returns. To get the DC election experience, I decided that the party at the National Press Club would be the best choice. Some of my fellow Fellows came as well and brought friends, several of whom I knew from the debate party, so we were well-represented. The Press Club ballroom was set up with five large screens showing three different networks and two with the Twitter feed from the Press Club hash tag, which was mostly by people in the room. We managed to scavenge chairs to sit together in the center to watch the CNN broadcast.
An additional important virtual presence in our party was my sister, who not only had been sent to California for a work-related meeting, but had been scheduled for a team-building dinner that evening, much to her extreme frustration. I remember that four years ago, her election watching plans included having the TV on while simultaneously cross-referencing with several of her favorite blogs, so she is a bit of an election junky. I was detailed to text her updates once she went to dinner, but for the early hours of the returns when she was obviously still in her hotel room on her computer, she was actually feeding more data to me than we were getting from CNN! I shared her information with the rest of my group, which spiced up the early part of the evening.
The Press Club party was billed as a bipartisan event, and early on in the evening, a member of the Press Club welcomed us and reminded everyone that indeed we should play nicely with each other. It was indeed a very congenial crowd that was very respectful of different perspectives, but the huge cheer that greeted the news that Elizabeth Warren had won the Massachusetts Senatorial race was strong evidence that the crowd was not equally distributed between the two parties.
One of the strangest moments of self-realization for me was that I was almost more interested in the results of the Senate races than of the Presidential race. Both of my fellow Fellows who were at the party have placed in the Senate in Democratic offices, so the three of us had a strong stake in the D’s retaining their majority there. Every now and then, we would put our heads together to discuss the progress of the Senate races and how our prospects looked for the upcoming year. Some races were personal; offices in which our friends were working because the seat had been looking solid for months. We were happy that the predictions turned out to be true and our friends would not have to shift offices having just gotten settled. Other races involved senators whose contests were too close to risk taking a fellow, but we had also gotten to know those offices as part of doing our research for placement, and it seemed almost as though we were happy for the success of family members.
As the results rolled in and the swing states started to get resolved, my new connections to Colorado kicked in as I hoped that their electoral votes would be the deciding ones. Next to me, a Fellow working with Sen. Harkin from Iowa was equally determined that her new “home” state would tip the scales.
At the end, everyone was on their feet for the final projection. My sister had gone off to dinner, so I texted her “Done.” She replied, “It’s official?” I texted back, “The Empire State Building is blue.”
That might be the end of the story, except that just like a sporting event, the following day involved different people processing the results in their own ways. My friend the policy wonk analyzed the messages sent by the election results and their potential implications for the next Congress. Two Congressional staffers shared their adventures having taken off for Election Day. One spent the day as a Democratic monitor at the polls making sure that all the proper procedures were followed. Another worked support in a polling place that had extremely long lines. He described their efforts to keep people upbeat and willing to stay, and my patriotic heart was touched by the response of people who spent two and a half hours in line waiting to vote. People would drive to the polling place, see the line, and still park and join the queue. They said, “Well, of course I stayed to vote!”
My own personal analysis was to count the number of women senators we’ll have starting in January. With 20 women in the Senate, we are starting to approach the point where they are somewhat less than an oddity or an exception. I especially look forward to watching their collective impact on the landscape in the next few years.