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Election Night in DC: How We—and Readers—Celebrated

From martinis at home to Indian food in Georgetown, how Washington watched the results roll in.

While a group of humans watch TV returns, Maggie the Westie waits patiently for election night to be over so she can go home. Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.

Probably the only person giddier than Washington-area Democrats last night was Republican presidential son and brother Jeb Bush, who, at least for the moment, looks more like the future of the GOP than any other contender. But, heck, that’s four years away. Well, really only two. Maybe one.

Presidential election nights in DC are an interesting proposition. The truth is, most of the people who work in the political “industry” are out of town, either with one of the two major candidates or working in a state precinct or perhaps on a Senate or House campaign. This $6 billion campaign season sucked a lot of bodies away from the city. But there was still enough going on here to make for an active night for all and a celebration for the winners. Though not on the scale of four years ago, supporters of President Barack Obama showed up to celebrate at 14th and U streets after the networks declared him the winner. There were also spontaneous celebrations in Lafayette Square across from the White House.

The Republican National Committee had a party at the Reagan Building, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had their own at the Liaison Hotel. The Newseum was host to a Politico party, which one guest described as a “brawl”—not violent, just crowded, loud, and boisterous. Over Twitter and Facebook, we heard from others who made an evening out of watching the returns.

Cindi Larson Callaway: “At home, with dirty martinis and then celebratory Champagne. And some chocolate cake.”

Howard Arenstein: “We got sushi from Yosaku and watched the returns at home.”

Mallory Tablatino: “Cooked at home. Sipped on a great Pinot. Reviewed on the phone with my friend Krista, surfing all the stations, Hispanic, CNN, NBC, MSNBC, taking calls from my son in Miami, knowing I would be in a great mood, to ask, ‘Mom, can I bring a dog home for Thanksgiving?’ No, but Obama has the Electoral. Haha.”

Rose Eide: “We stayed on the ranch, drinking our French wine, figuring that by the time all the votes were in there would be enough empty bottles we would be happy no matter what the results might be.”

Kathleen: “Eight friends, fabulous dinner at Bistro Boheme followed by results watching at my apartment. A lovely evening.”

Terry Silver: “Had three TVs on simultaneously. MSNBC was quickest to correctly predict outcomes, CNN slowest.”

Stephanie Schmitt: “Dinner and drinks at Chef Geoff’s; it was a party for sure!”

Douglas LaBier: “A glass of good Bordeaux at home, and shifting from apprehensive to relieved.”

Susan Sargent: “My teens and I printed maps and called out each new reported state while I taught them electoral math. DC-style family night.”

We got out to a few events, all—by coincidence—with Democrats, and each different from the next but involving various Washington players, brokers, and insiders. The first was a private buffet dinner and viewing party at the downtown office of the Ben Barnes Group, a lobbying firm with strong Texas connections. Barnes and colleagues Kent Caperton, Wyeth Wiederman, Patsy Thomasson, and Scott Moorhead welcomed guests into a handsome suite of rooms equipped with TVs, a bar, and a lot of good hearty food: shrimp on toast, beef skewers, chunks of Parmesan cheese, pecans, and asparagus. At 6, before the first guests arrived, Barnes was on the phone with pollster John Zogby, getting the inside line on exit polls and some projections. He was optimistic but still guarded in his enthusiasm. What worried him was whether his candidate, President Obama, would win the Electoral College and the popular vote (which he did).

When Barnes’s guests began to flood in, including major Democratic donor Elizabeth Bagley and Kandie Stroud, he retreated with some of them to a basement conference room where they could be more focused on the televisions and the returns. There would be time to party later.

At Bibiana there was a private dinner for a group of 20 Democrats, some of them lobbyists, some who work in high positions in the federal government, some who do fundraising, but all of them friends. This made for a jovial setting in the private dining room, where owner Ashok Bajaj had two long tables arranged in a horseshoe fashion so everyone had a view of the screen tuned to CNN. When someone got in the way, there were threats of a tasty olive roll being tossed at them. Waiters poured red and white wine and served plates of salad, burrata cheese, roasted baby artichokes, and charcuterie while everyone talked or occasionally stopped to listen to Anderson Cooper or to clap when they liked the news. When Romney had a win it was quiet the way FedEx Stadium is quiet when the other team scores, or there were mumblings such as, “Well, we knew he’d win there.”

The evening was still young—it would be two hours before the California polls would close, and the mood was one of settling in for a long night. Still, the spirit was upbeat. The entrée choices included rockfish, mushroom risotto, and a “Republican” seared steak. Most guests opted for the fish or the risotto.

By 10 we were in Georgetown, at the home of a former Clinton administration official and her husband, who were hosting a small dinner. They served Indian food “to celebrate the diversity of the party,” but dessert was still traditional old-school apple pie. The guests included a higher-up in the Obama White House and his wife; a generous donor to the Democratic party; the executive director of a nonprofit who had worked tirelessly in Virginia and other Southern states to help bring out the vote for Obama; and a West Highland terrier, who conjured images of little viral Abigail, who cried because she wanted the election to be over. The dog either paced in front of her owners, as if to say, “Can we go home now?” or toughed it out, chin on the floor. But still, the dog was a Democrat and in it to win it.

The gentleman from the White House was very tuned to his BlackBerry, communicating with friends—presumably in Chicago—over Facebook. By now, the evening was moving in Obama’s direction. Anxiety had gone, relief was at hand, but no one was opening any Champagne—yet. For that they would wait until it was official.

A random survey of friends and colleagues indicated most Washingtonians, at least those who had to work in the morning, watched the final returns into the wee hours, but from bed. Which made us wonder: Shouldn’t the morning after a presidential election be a holiday, at least in DC?

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