By Kris Kitto and Betsy Rothstein - 11/05/08 06:45 PM EST
This year’s presidential election may have been won on a singular emotion — hope — but that doesn’t mean it didn’t also include equal parts despair, frustration, anxiety, fear, excitement and euphoria.
President-elect Barack Obama began his quest for the White House using a message of “change” designed to tug at people’s feelings for the country’s future. What he might not have foreseen is that the campaign’s length and intensity provided ample opportunities for the voters and candidates to feel every describable emotion — and even a few that escape words.
As Washingtonians watched the returns at various parties around the city Tuesday night, many reflected on the range of feelings they experienced during the epic campaign. They came up with a variety of descriptions — rollercoaster rides and Christmas-morning giddiness among the most common — but almost uniformly agreed on one feeling: relief at its conclusion.
“You take off at a moderate pace, but you can see what’s coming,” said Congressional Black Caucus staffer Keiana Barrett in describing her ups and downs over the past two years. Barrett marveled at Obama’s history-making run to the presidency while watching the results at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC)-Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) party.
“It’s such a rush,” she said. “I’ve gone from everything from despair to doubt to sheer jubilation.”
Attorney Trent McGrath also felt the dips and climbs of an amusement park ride during this year’s campaigns.
“Rollercoaster. Bipolar. Love and hate,” McGrath said while free-associating his campaign emotions at the Human Rights Campaign’s Election Night Party at Capitol City Brewing Company.
“I hated the fact that [Sen.] Hillary [Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.)] and Barack took slaps at each other for a bit,” he said, recounting the Democratic primary dogfight that at one point even brought Clinton to tears. But McGrath has since recovered. “I felt great today,” he said of his Election Day mood.
Some even let the emotion of the political season seep into their personal lives.
Chuck Conconi, a senior counselor at Qorvis Communications and a former gossip columnist at Washingtonian magazine, said: “Emotional? I’ve been very emotional all the way about this one. Most of my friends are for Obama. If they want to be my friends,” he laughed, “they are for Obama.”
Tears emerged as a major theme, too. Some people shed tears of joy throughout the campaign, while others spilled the sad variety.
“I cried when I watched [Obama] vote,” said Sheila Douglas, a private-sector communications specialist celebrating the Illinois senator’s victory at the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) party at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel.
Adam Rosenfield was predicting tears by the end of election night, but not for the same reason as Douglas. While watching the results at the Republican National Committee’s party at the Capital Hilton, the intern for a GOP lawyer said he was fearful of Tuesday’s outcome.
“I’m going to cry tonight,” he said.
While no one was spotted crying at the Cato Institute’s election party, spirits were low.
“I want to try to cheer people up who are depressed about the election,” said Gene Healy, a presidential expert at the libertarian think tank. “It’s not the sort of thing I usually do.”
One person in need of a pick-me-up was Healy’s colleague, Cato Executive Vice President David Boaz.
“This is the scariest night of the year,” he said. “Halloween has nothing to compare to election night.”
Boaz said he was sad to see the campaign season come to an end.
“Aside from deploring the candidates, I do find the horserace of politics entertaining,” he said, comparing the campaign’s conclusion to the end of baseball season or the finale of a TV show.
Others compared the night to Christmas.
“Last night was like the night before Christmas,” said RNC intern Jonathan Jorcin, watching the results at the GOP party. “I was anxious, [like], ‘I want tomorrow to come. Am I going to get that red bicycle? Maybe not. Maybe it will be a blue bicycle.’ ”
Jorcin got a blue bicycle — just the present Sabrina Smith wanted.
“Oh my God!” shrieked Smith, a black woman at the DCCC party, after learning Obama had won a number of key states. Smith, who works for a Rockville publishing firm, said she has been very emotional about the elections, and anxious all day. “It’s like waiting for Santa on Christmas Day. To see how far we have come, my 6-year-old son can look at Obama and say, ‘Mommy, I can become president.’ ”
Chris Weber, a political scientist at Louisiana State University who studies emotions evoked in campaign ads, said this year’s election was emotional not only because of the drama and history that played out on the campaign trail but also because of current events.
The campaign “has been quite emotional, and I do think it’s tied to the issues that have been heavily focused on,” Weber said in a phone interview. “Some people have been experiencing the economic downturn personally, and people have really started to come to grips with years of war.
“I think there is a certain degree of anger about things,” he said. “And anger is an emotion that has effects quite similar to positive emotions. It leads people to be more likely to participate.”
As the night’s events unfolded, onlookers’ emotional rollercoasters peaked or bottomed out.
Two African-American interns for Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) stood in the back of the DCCC-DSCC party, quietly content. But the quiet demeanor did not reflect what was going on internally.
“I’m very excited,” Rashawn Mitchell said. “Obviously the most interesting event of my life. It’s very close to me. I feel like I’m more of a citizen of this country. I can relate to the candidate now.”
At 8:01 p.m. he remarked, “I know he’s going to win it!”
Meanwhile, his fellow intern, Stanley Thompson, was stuck in his own excitement. “It’s hard to even put in words,” he said. “There’s a nervousness, a feeling in the back of your mind that something is going to go terribly wrong.”
But others, like Douglas, the communications specialist partying at the DNC event, thought about the opportunities. She thought about what it meant for her 12-year-old daughter and summarized her emotions in one word.
“Tremendous,” she said. “The emotions of today have just been tremendous.”
Brendan Sasso contributed to this article.