By Betsy Rothstein, Kris Kitto, Jordy Yager and Brendan Sasso - 11/05/08 06:43 PM EST
5:26 p.m. — At the Qorvis Communications party downtown, guests drink fruity Obama and McCain martinis and marvel over astoundingly vivid wax figures of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and President Bush. Qorvis rented the wax people from Madame Tussauds Wax Museum — who knew you could rent wax figures? They came with three male security guards who promised to rough anyone up who got too friendly with the figures.
“That’s so funny, it’s scary,” one female partygoer remarks after seeing the wax Obama.
Unfortunately, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin did not arrive in wax form. They were downgraded to life-size cardboard and strategically placed around the party.
6:12 p.m. — At the Cato Institute’s party, two men chat in the crowded front atrium. “We have a Socialist Party and a Dixiecrat Party,” one says to the other. “What happened? Barry Goldwater is rolling over in his grave right now.”
6:40 p.m. — In line for the Human Rights Campaign’s election party at Capitol City Brewing Company, a woman tells her friend about her polling precinct experience. “I was having fun until a woman told me my glasses looked like Sarah Palin’s. I said, ‘Don’t ever say that to me again.’ ”
6:50 p.m. — The Republican National Committee’s (RNC) party at the Capital Hilton has not officially started, but partygoers are having drinks in the hotel lobby and preparing for what they suspect will be a depressing evening.
“I don’t put much stock in any one election,” says Anthony Bonna, a McCain supporter and student at Georgetown University. “You win some, you lose some. If we don’t win, it’s time to rebuild. It was Jimmy Carter that brought us Reagan.”
There are bright spots. Bonna’s hometown congressman is Rep. Tim Mahoney (D-Fla.), who recently admitted to extramarital affairs. “I think you’ll see a new congressman in Florida-16,” Bonna says happily.
7 p.m. — Fox News blares from the giant-screen TVs at the GOP party. Drexel Kleber, a news radio host, just moved to D.C. this week, and says he’s “trying not to be the buzz-kill five minutes into the party” with chatter of Republicans losing. “It doesn’t really matter to me tonight. I’m here for the experience. I gotta believe this is the place to be.”
7:16 p.m. — The RNC confines members of the media to a penned-in area, like farm animals. RNC deputy press secretary Amber Wilkerson and her blond sidekick monitor reporters and forbid them from speaking to guests. The roast beef carving station is just outside the ropes separating media from regular folk. Not sure if we are allowed to step outside the rope and enjoy a juicy slice, seeing as Wilkerson hasn’t cleared it. Reporters and photographers are furious. Wilkerson says all RNC events handle press in this way.
7:34 p.m. — Blond RNC communications officials move the velvet gray rope inward several feet to further confine media.
7:39 p.m. — Partygoers at the RNC event pause for a moment of patriotism as the national anthem is sung. More slabs of roast beef are cut for guests. Reporters remain in the pen.
7:49 p.m. — It’s revealed. Everyone in the band at the RNC party voted for McCain. One member wavered, but chose McCain.
8 p.m. — A woman in a black pantsuit and chunky heels walks up the down escalator at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC)-Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) party. As she tries to reach the top of the descending escalator, she trips twice and squeals, “Oh, oh, oh” all the way up.
8:09 p.m. — At the RNC party, Fox News calls Kentucky for Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Crowd cheers; guy shouts, “Nice!”
8:10 p.m. — Fox News calls North Carolina for Kay Hagan; crowd gasps; partygoer says, “Oh my God” and another, “That’s huge.”
8:17 p.m. — “These are good,” says a man at the DCCC-DSCC bash after scarfing down a mini-burger.
8:30 p.m. — Sharron Caplan, chairwoman of the Women’s National Democratic Club PAC, remarks at its party: “My biggest fear? Two words: Sarah Palin. I stomached Bush and Cheney. But I cannot live here if she wins. If this is what this country has become, it’s not who I am, who my friends are, or my family is. It would be a dreadful signal that we’ve gone back in time. And I love Europe.”
8:31 p.m. — Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) comes on TV screens at the Hyatt, the location of the DCCC-DSCC party. The whole room reacts in a collective “Boo!”
8:32 p.m. — Back at the RNC party, a man examines his printout electoral map and groans.
8:37 p.m. — Hill reporter gets lectured for being part of the “corrupt” mass media and for helping Obama.
8:42 p.m. — At the RNC party, a guest yells, “Pennsylvania hates America!”
8:44 p.m. — RNC security tells a reporter he must stay in the roped-off press zone (apparently not spin-free).
8:48 p.m. —Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), surrounded by his security detail, heads to an elevator at the Hyatt. “I feel that the Senate’s going to be a better place as a result of having these two women,” he says in reaction to the news that Hagan defeated Dole in North Carolina and Democrat Jeanne Shaheen defeated Sen. John Sununu (R) in New Hampshire. “I’m going to go call them both right now.”
8:50 p.m. — A the DCCC-DSCC party, a male partygoer reacts to the Hagan news, saying, “Love that. Love that.”
8:53 p.m. — A man in a blue blazer stands with two women in the Hyatt lobby. “What does the ‘SCC’ stand for?” he asks them. “The Senate,” one of his companions shoots back.
8:54 p.m. — A partygoer at RNC says, “Let us drink our pain away.”
9 p.m. — Former Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) shows up to the RNC party and poses for pictures with staffers in the hotel lobby. He avoids any reference to “Macaca.”
9 p.m. — Minnesota and Wisconsin get called for Obama. Caplan, of the Women’s National Democratic Club, is relieved. “Oh good, I’m going to be able to stay [in America],” she says.
9 p.m. — A woman at the Election Mall party in Chinatown’s Ultra Bar trips up the stars, miraculously saving her drink, minus a few splashes.
9:01 p.m. — RNC partygoers hiss at Obama chief strategist David Axelrod as he is interviewed on Fox News. The channel is changed.
9:04 p.m. — At the DCCC party, Florida Democratic Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Kendrick Meek take to the stage. “We are going to have an absolutely fantastic night, aren’t we?” Wasserman Schultz asks, getting the crowd revved up. Partygoers scream, “Woo, woo, woo!”
9:06 p.m. — A male partygoer reacts to news of Rep. Ric Keller’s (R-Fla.) loss: “Oh, that’s so good.”
9:11 p.m. — A GOP aide to a Republican Kentucky congressman attends the DCCC party. “He didn’t want to go to a crappy party,” a Democratic aide explains.
9:11 p.m. — Outside the Capital Hilton, a clearly drunk man complains, “I’m never going to come back here again, just awful service.” He then uses several anti-gay slurs and almost gets in a fistfight with another man until security pulls them apart. Someone yells, “You should be embarrassed.” His wife, also drunk, says, “He’s not embarrassing, he’s my husband.” As their cab leaves, someone else asks, “Were they Barack people?”
9:15 p.m. — Antonella Barba, a Catholic University graduate who made it to the finals of “American Idol,” doesn’t get recognized by the guard to the Election Mall party’s VIP lounge. “I’m hosting the party,” she explains to them and proceeds to walk up the staircase in high heels and a turquoise cocktail dress.
9:20 p.m. — MSNBC calls Ohio for Obama. “It’s a wrap! It’s a wrap!” a partygoer at the Hyatt yells. He explains he’s wearing a giant striped knit hat because his hair “comes down to my butt” and he doesn’t want it to get caught on anything. James Brown’s “I Feel Good” begins to play.
9:24 p.m. — Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) enters the Hyatt ballroom. A minute later, Queen’s “We Are the Champions” blares into the room and the crowd goes wild. The song is sung in unison.
9:30 p.m. — Rep. Meek emerges from the ballroom with wife, Leslie. “The electric that went through the room,” Meek says of Obama’s Ohio win and impending victory, “it’s emotional and spiritual for many of us.” Leslie says: “It’s for all of our ancestors.” She high-fives some friends.
9:34 p.m. — At the Sixth and I Synagogue, CNN calls Ohio for Obama; room erupts in cheers.
9:36 p.m. — The synagogue party serves drinks called “Obamatinis” and “McHurricanes” from punch bowls. A server notes that the Obamatini is almost gone, but she’s only served about six McHurricanes all night. “I think people are drinking along party lines,” she says.
10:05 p.m. — Former Olympic gymnast Kerri Strug, who famously hurt her ankle while leading the U.S. to gold in the Atlanta Games, takes a photo with two men at the RNC party. “I’m here with some of my friends,” she says. “I’m from Arizona, so I’ve always been a fan of Sen. McCain.” A man she is holding hands with quickly leads her into the crowd.
10:05 p.m. — Post-Obama win, a partygoer leaving the Hyatt gets philosophical. “You understand the significance of this, right? It transcends 9/11 — probably on par with Martin Luther King’s speech,” opines Dana Chasin, senior adviser of federal fiscal policy at OMB Watch. “I’m trying to think of historical parallels. The United States turning to a black man in a time of crisis is an indication of so much — of the people we are, of the nation we are.”
10:35 p.m. — Unidentified man at the Democratic National Committee party screaming at giant flat-screen TV, two inches from his face, “F--k you, John McCain!”
10:40 p.m. — Wearing a blue-haired, shoulder-length wig, Dokhi Fassihian, an Iranian-American human-rights worker at the DNC party, declares: “Obama means so much to me and the word that I felt I had to show it on my body. In such a conservative city like D.C. you have to be proud to show it.”
10:44 p.m. — A busty woman with an Obama-Biden bumper sticker on her chest walks out of the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel, where the DNC is celebrating.
10:46 p.m. — Inside, chants of “USA! USA! USA!” erupt in the hotel ballroom. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) nods awkwardly and agrees, “USA.”
10:54 p.m. — Van Hollen starts a “Yes we can” cheer and tries to convert it into “Yes we did,” but the crowd doesn’t follow.
11 p.m. — CNN declares Obama the victor. The DCCC-DSCC party explodes. People jump up and down, screaming. Some people are crying in joy. Others dance and rattle noisemakers. Staffers juggle digital phones, BlackBerrys and bottles of alcohol. Several African-American staffers begin crying with happiness and give each other tight hugs. U2’s “Beautiful Day” plays. Hill staffer Bonnie Allen remarks: “I cried, I thought about my grandparents, maternal and paternal, and all that my parents’ generation went through during the civil rights era. It was a magical moment.”
11:01 p.m. — Fox News calls race for Obama at RNC party. A guest in a Burberry plaid tie holds his head and shouts, “No!”
11:16 p.m. — The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. begins to get teary-eyed in Chicago’s Grant Park during Obama’s acceptance speech.
11:20 p.m. — Jackson Sr. is sobbing.
11:25 p.m. — Palin tears up during McCain’s concession speech.
11:25 p.m. — Woman at DNC party wearing a dead fox fur around her shoulders comments on McCain’s concession speech: “Someone wrote this a couple of days ago for him thinking they had to counteract all the negative ads he’s been doing.”
11:25 p.m. — McCain’s concession speech is played on the TV. He thanks Palin, and the crowd boos.
11:30 p.m. — During McCain’s concession speech, despondent GOP staffers nurse Sam Adams beer at National Republican Congressional Committee Headquarters. One named “Harold” is said to be working on second bottle of wine.
11:47 p.m. — Hundreds of people gathers in front of the White House chant, “No more Bush.”
11:50 p.m. — “It’s not civilized; it’s mayhem,” a man says while looking at the horde of people celebrating Obama’s victory in front of the White House.
11:51 p.m. — The celebration in front of the White House continues with a spontaneous group performance of the song “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.”
2 a.m. — Some 2,000 revelers are outside the White House. Some begin to chant, “F--k Bush! F--k Bush.” The unmistakable smell of marijuana is in the air.
2:30 a.m. — Cars are honking in celebration near the White House. A Metrobus driver wants in on the festivities and offers a loud honk.
Klaus Marre, Alexander Bolton, J. Taylor Rushing and Jackie Kucinich contributed to this report.