Looking for a Loser


Pick your cliché to describe last night in D.C. "It's a nail biter," a weary fellow at the Democratic National Committee bash at the Mayflower Hotel told me at 12:45 last night. "Tighter than a piece of coal in Shannon Doherty's ass," is the colorful way an Arlington lawyer put it four hours earlier at the Republican National Committee party a block-and-a-half away.

I spent the night and much of the early morning hopping from party to party in search of bad news. There's always plenty of it, since with elections somebody has to win. I wanted to spend the night with the losers (actually, I spent most of the night assuming I was a loser, since I had $200 bet on Gore taking the White House and $30 bet on the Dems taking back the House).

My first stop was the DNC bash at the Mayflower Hotel, where I picked up my press credential, purchased a $5 Bud Light, and soaked in the scene. It was early and too cheery for my taste. At 7 p.m. CNN said Georgia and Virginia were too close to call, and the room erupted in cheers. Vermont went to Gore. "Big surprise," said one cocky fellow when the TV told us that Bush had secured South Carolina.

Things were far more tense a short walk away at the Capital Hilton, where the RNC was throwing its election night Bash. "We expected to lose Florida," said Republicanoid radio host Armstrong Williams, who I ran into shortly after getting my press credential. "But we're going to win Pennsylvania." He may have been exactly wrong about that. But the bald-headed conservative was on firmer ground with his next prediction. Said Williams: "Bush will squeak it out. We'll keep the House. It'll be a tight one, but we'll keep the Senate. The fact that Sen. Chuck Robb (D-Va.) lost is a good sign."

Still, at that point things were grim at the RNC party. In line for a $4 beer, a woman, upon learning I was press and once lived in California, told me how she too once lived there. "I left California because the Mexicans were taking over my town of Coronado," offered the fiftysomething bottle blond, reminding me why I'm not a Republican. RNC Chairman Jim Nicholson introduced the emcee for the night, a comedian who doesn't use four letter words. Not suprisingly, he was a comedian in name only. "He hasn't tickled my funny bone yet," said Joel Mowbray, who, talking over the band, pondered, "Why do Republicans always get white bands who play Motown all night?"

But it wasn't the comedian or the band that was bringing down the party. It was the fact that CNN and other networks had at that point called Florida for Gore. Michigan went the V.P.'s way as well and by 9:00 p.m., it looked like an early wrap for Gore.

It was time to catch a cab to Republican operatiave Grover Norquist's party, where a committed group of conservative activists would surely be bumming in their beer. "New Yorkers are so gullible," the cab driver kept saying, referring to Hillary's election.

"It's closer than we'd like it to be," Grover told me as he emptied a kitchen trashcan at 9:30 p.m. "I don't see how you can call Florida with 600,000 absentee ballots out." I grabbed a beer and Grover told me to follow him upstairs, where former Speaker Newt Gingrich was watching the returns. Earlier, he had questioned the Florida call on TV, but wasn't saying much as he watched returns with his young, third wife.

The nadir of the night came at 9:50 p.m. when someone appeared on Grover's roof deck and announced that New Mexico had gone to Gore. "We can only give up 15 more electoral votes in the whole country," Grover said. I was talking with Grover, who was fixated on losing Florida, which, he felt, just didn't seem right. Five minutes later the room below erupted into cheers, a small echo of the roar reported at RNC headquarters and the groan at DNC headquarters. CNN had put Florida back into play. The buzz was that the Prince of Darkness, a.k.a. newsman Robert Novak was telling confidential sources that CNN would soon put Florida in Bush's camp, something that didn't exactly transpire. "We're taking back Florida one geriatric at a time," exclaimed one merry, and very drunk, conservative.

Grover's was now too cheery so I caught a cab back to the DNC party, where folks were sure to be grieving. "Fuck. Damn. Come on Florida," said a guy, as I sipped on an espresso and watched soon-to-be former Gore mouthpiece Mark Fabiani proclaim his boss's eminent victory on TV. That was the half the buzz at the now gloomy DNC party. The other half was hatred for Nader.

"The nightmare for Gore and Nader supporters is that Gore loses and Nader doesn't get 5 percent of the vote," D.C. lawyer Mike Castellano told me. "If it comes out that Nader caused Gore to lose, I will go to Nader meetings and throw tomatoes at them." Echoed Georgetown law student Rachel Entman, "I want to know how Nader feels if he single-handedly screws up the country." (My hunch: Pretty damn swell.)

It was nearly 1 a.m. and it was clearly a bad night in many respects for Democrats, especially locally. The announcement came that they wouldn't take the House. While they would ultimately do well in the Senate, where a dead Democrat would beat a live Republican. Democratic Sen. Chuck Robb, the profligate son-in-law of LBJ, on whose behalf many in the room had surely worked, was a goner. (Another local Democrat, Terry Lierman, who was challenging Rep. Connie Morella (R-MD), went down as well.) And the place was a mess. The ballroom was emptying out and the restroom was out of paper towels, rolls of soggy toilet paper sitting on the sink counter. I decided to join the stream out and head to the RNC to see how they were holding up.

"What's up with the bullshit in Florida," said Mario Lopez, who was glued to the TV at the RNC party. "First they tool us. Now they won't call it with 93 percent of the precincts reporting."

Well, "they" did call it for Bush at approximately 2:10 a.m. But they took it back at 4:06 a.m. Gore is understandably not willing to concede the lifetime ambition of at least two generations of his family to 1,200 votes when there are 5,000 yet to be counted.

"It's too close to call," said Gore campaign chairman William Daley. As the sun broke over the Potomac, CNN put the electoral count back to 249 for Gore and 246 for Bush. We won't get an official count on Florida until late today, or possibly even later this week.

I might not have spent the night with a loser after all.