D.C. election parties light up the night

The bar room at the Big Hunt was hot, packed, loud and smelly. The mostly young people swarming there were dressed in political paraphernalia, one plump woman busting out of a menacing long T-shirt that read, “Vote or Die.”

Election-night parties were all the rage Tuesday night, with most barrooms around town devoted to watching the returns roll in.

Down in the dingy basement of the bar, Ryan O’Donnell, a 24-year-old intern for Rep. John Olver (D-Mass.), was in undecided spirits as he sat on a vinyl, zebra-print couch. There for a Fair Vote party, he remarked, “This is kind of the Super Bowl here.”

O’Donnell, who said he has zero power in the congressional office where he has worked for the past two months, said being a part of Fair Vote has given him a sense of purpose.

“I’m just a schmuck,” he said of his congressional duties of answering constituent mail. “You can even use the word peon if you want. I’m the bottom of the barrel.”

Even so, he said he’s glad to be working for Olver. “I’m very pleased to be working for one of the tallest members of Congress,” he said. “If you tell someone you work for someone tall, you gain instant respect. He’s huge.”

But election night, O’Donnell, in a colorful Beatles tie, could forget about all that. He was all about the voting cause. “Personally, I’m rooting for Kerry,” he said, “but on behalf of the center, I’m rooting for nobody.”

Up a few flights of stairs, the National Jewish Democratic Council was hosting its own party.

With a layer of sweat pasted on his forehead, Elliot Harkavy, a consultant for the Department of Homeland Security, said he was feeling hopeful for Sen. John Kerry’s victory. This comment came at 8:55 p.m.

“It’s kind of disappointing how Virginia is going,” said Anita Gupta, a Virginia resident who had just heard that President Bush had carried the state.

Sarah, a legislative assistant for Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) who offered only her first name, was also at the bar. “It’s pretty close, so it’s tense,” she said.

Over on K Street at Tequila Grille, the D.C. Society of Young Professionals had its own bash of singles, some of whom were only pretending to be political. The slightly upscale bar was more subdued than the others. In other words, you could actually breathe there and the people were not sweating.

“I don’t really care. I’m sick of hearing about it,” said Mike Pendergast, who works for a defense contractor. “I wanted to vote for the Libertarian candidate, [but] I voted for Bush.”

Pendergast’s friend Greg Densmore, who works for Ernst and Young, also voted for Bush. “I trust his leadership more than Kerry,” Densmore said. Mimicking Bush’s debate tactics, he added, “Kerry had 20 years to show his leadership.”

Asked if they’d stay out until the election was decided, Densmore replied, “I’ll probably stay up, but I won’t stay here.” Pendergast chimed in, “I ain’t staying up.”

Shayan Sarkar, who works for the same defense contractor as Pendergast, said the two manage to remain civil even though they disagree politically. Sarkar voted for Kerry.

“I work for a defense contractor, so I benefit if Bush wins,” he said. “But fiscally, I think he’s done an awful job. At the same time, I can’t really say I like Kerry either.”

But over at the Capital Hilton, the site of the Democratic National Committee’s election-night party, voters were certain of their convictions for Kerry. “I’m optimistic,” said Ben Newborn, who wasn’t sure he wanted to be interviewed because he admitted he had already consumed six drinks.

It wasn’t hard to sway him. He said he went there for the social camaraderie. He said that he had momentarily stepped outside of the hotel’s ballroom for a smoke. “I actually wish it were more quiet so I could sit down and listen to the pundits spin,” he said.

Newborn, a waiter at Food Bar in Dupont Circle, was reeking of booze as he said, “I’m hoping Kerry wins so I can find a job.”

Inside the elegant ballroom, things were heating up as the boos and screams came with each decision. For instance, just after 10 p.m., CNN announced that Bush had won Missouri. The room fell into a loud chorus of boos. The boos continued as CNN announced that Rep. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) had won his Senate race.

A little while later, newly elected Barack Obama (D-Ill.) appeared on the screen for his Senate acceptance speech. The room turned jubilant.

By 10:30 p.m., people grew tired of standing and began camping out on the floor in front of the gigantic TV screens. But not everyone was content or optimistic.

“I think it’s still too close to call,” said Lalla King, a consultant for the Department of Social Services, voicing her hope that Kerry would beat Bush. As she put it, “Four more years of Bush and we’ll all be underground.”