PA-08: Election Night memories

(cross-posted at Deny My Freedom and Daily Kos)

It's been a few days since that night, but I thought I'd take some time to recap my Election Night. Originally, I had only intended to attend the post-election party for PA-08 Democratic candidate Patrick Murphy, as I had prior academic obligations that I needed to tend to. Nevertheless, I found some time to make it out to the district for some very hurried GOTV work before heading over to the party and having a hell of a night. The campaign had planned 3 waves of GOTV effort, and I made it to campaign headquarters around 4:30 in the afternoon, shortly before the last wave was scheduled to hit the pavement. Water bottles were collected, people collected flashlights for the after-dark canvassing, and then it was time for us to head out. This was it - the final push to make sure we got everyone out to vote. After nearly 10 weekends of volunteering for the campaign, it was coming down to who had the better ground game. Patrick's campaign had well over 1,000 volunteers in the entire district - an astounding number of people sacrificing their time to help get him elected. Before we headed out, though, we had a pep talk from the man himself...

Patrick emerged from the back to a raucous round of applause from the canvassers who had been gathering for the final wave. He came around and shook hands with those before climbing up on the desk and addressing the crowd. He thanked us for all of our hard work, but he pleaded that everyone get out there, no matter how tired they were. It was the most exciting day of his life, he said, and it was a great sight to see - a true leader rallying the ground troops for one last asphalt assault. He only spoke briefly, as we all had to get going (and so did he - he ended up visiting 35 polling places during the entire day, which was quite a feat considering just how large the district it), but it was the inspiration we all needed to get out for the last 3 hours for our candidate.

Our driver to our turf that night was CJ, one of Patrick's fellow soldiers whom he met at West Point. He hadn't particularly been that involved with the race, but as the weeks counted down towards Election Day, Patrick had placed a call to CJ and asked him to come down and help out with the effort. Indeed, he was extremely tired from the work he had been doing; before Patrick came out to speak, he had dozed off in the field office out of exhaustion. The man has a killer Dave Chappelle imitation, I must say, even if he was tired. My canvassing partner was a fellow college student from Princeton who had made the trip out to Bucks County to volunteer for the day - around his classes, of course. I consider myself a political junkie, but he far outclassed me in his knowledge of the demographic breakdown of races around the country. It was extremely enjoyable to talk about politics with someone who could teach me a thing or two. In addition, two girls from a religious university in Washington, D.C. had made the trip up to get out the vote for Patrick. I was extremely impressed with the turnout from their school; they managed to bring 30 College Democrats up to Bucks County to help out. Compared with the 4 students who came from Princeton, along with those that came from Penn, it shows that there are several vibrant College Democrats chapters around the country - and it gives me hope that the organization, even if it is an utter failure at the national level, will be able to succeed due to the individually motivated local chapters.

I ended up hitting two neighborhoods that night - one in Bristol Township, and one in Bristol Boro. I'm not exactly sure what the difference between the two is, but Bristol was part of Patrick's base. The sun had just set when we arrived, and we wasted no time in getting to work. Ordinarily, you tend to walk at a someone casual pace during canvassing, but this was the end, so we literally hit the ground running for almost 3 hours straight. We ran from door to door, knocking on doors and making sure to remind people to vote. Midterm elections usually see lower turnout than presidential elections, but nearly everyone I spoke to had voted or were about to go vote. A couple of people hadn't voted yet, and I informed them of where their polling location was. There were a few grumpy others who said they didn't vote (that angered me, as usual), and there were even a few on my list who said they didn't vote for Patrick or were downright hostile. I'm not sure how they made it onto my canvassing list (which was the same fantastic format as it had been in the last couple of weeks - addresses on front, map on back), but I simply proceeded to run off their driveway to the next one. After completing one neighborhood in less than an hour, we stopped back at the headquarters to grab a drink and drive off to the next turf. Unfortunately, because we were ambitious and took on two adjacent turfs simultaneously, we were unable to finish both. While we waited to get picked up, we got news that Brad Ellsworth was already shellacking John Hostettler in IN-08, while John Donnelly, Baron Hill, and John Yarmuth were already leading in IN-02, IN-09, and KY-03, respectively. I was worn out already, but you could tell that the night was getting off to a good start.

We got picked up from our turf and headed over to a nearby Sheraton, where the post-election party was just getting underway. More people were filtering in, and I grabbed a couple of sandwiches and a lot of water before breaking out my laptop. I had difficulty finding a place to sit, so I ended up setting up shop on a stand with a waiter's tray on it. Surfing many of the smaller blogs was unsuccessful due to undoubtedly through-the-roof traffic, so I stuck with Daily Kos and the official websites that were posting returns. VA-Sen was not looking too promising, but the statewide Pennsylvania races - PA-Gov and PA-Sen - were called for us even before the returns began filtering in. In an ironic twist, the people watching the TV above had it tuned to Fox News; for whatever reason, we were having trouble getting CNN and MSNBC, and the people watching on the big screen had it tuned to the bastion of Election Night coverage known as...Dancing With The Stars. I think a little part of me died when I recognized that ABC was deciding to broadcast garbage like that instead of fully covering the election.

After a while, I headed into the press room - only to find that there were barely any press there. Instead, there was a large host of College Democrats watching TV on a laptop on one side, and a couple of us bloggers - myself, Booman, and CabinGirl - were there surfing the Internet, with a few curious observers surrounding us. Also present was Delaware Dem, who seemed to be enjoying himself and his drinks :) , blogosphere legal expert Adam B, and Philadelphia grassroots organizer extraordinaire Anne Dicker, who was the one who had given me my first ride out to Bucks County to meet Patrick Murphy almost a year earlier. For the most part, myself and Booman chatted about the seats we thought we'd pick up, as well as talking a lot about the incoming results for the VA-Sen race. There was great excitement when more races started rolling in, and a couple of surprises began to come in, such as our eventual triumph in KS-02. On the other hand, it was extremely disappointing to see us lose 3 upstate districts in New York - NY-25, NY-26, and NY-29 - that we should have won. We continued to track Patrick's race via the Bucks County website, which showed the results from the county that comprises 96% of the district (parts of Northeast Philadelphia and Montgomery County are also in the district). With his intial lead continuing to shrink as the results came in, it became quite the nailbiter. After a while, the wireless connection became so unreliable that I ended up giving up at one point and largely cribbed off of what was showing on TV (Rick Santorum's concession speech was particularly sweet) and from looking at Booman's computer.

Eventually, I got a hard-line connection and began looking at all the other races - I was particularly worried about MO-Sen, as Talent was showing around a 5-6% lead at this point. In a few minutes, Webb had miraculously surpassed Allen in VA-Sen, which had me even more disappointed that we could win in Virginia but lose the Senate in Missouri. Nevertheless, after the College Democrats had filtered out, a bunch of local Democratic and labor officials began to crowd around Booman (not facing camera, with the red hat) and CabinGirl's laptop, essentially appropriating them for their own use. By this time, Patrick's early advantage in Bucks County had all but disappeared, and there was rapid calculation going on all around in trying to get results from Philadelphia and Montgomery Counties. Using the CNN's election website, we were able to determine that Patrick was leading by roughly 1000-vote margins in each of the other counties, meaning that those leads would have to hold up for him to win. Fitzpatrick eventually surpassed Patrick in Bucks, and there were many phone calls made as we tried to figure exactly what the results were in the outstanding precincts. Someone pulled over a free-standing canvass with paper on it and beginning trying to tally the results. We figured that Patrick had a 3-digit lead at this point, and the media room was extremely tense, even though we believed we would win, albeit by an extremely narrow margin. Someone then walked in and announced the final results in Philadelphia and Montgomery, along with the remaining precincts in Bucks, and quick calculations were done - and Patrick came out ahead by about 1300-1400 votes. Yes, we merry band of bloggers were there when we called the election for our candidate to deafening yells of triumph and celebration as those outside stood around wondering why we were so excited. In a few more moments, we heard the same celebration occurring outside as well. I shook Booman's hand and headed out to the main ballroom for Patrick's impending victory speech. With such a small margin, all of us on this campaign - every staffer, every canvasser, every phonebanker, every blogger - we had collectively helped a wonderfully charismatic young man, a political neophyte, over the top against a Republican congressman who had spent his entire life in public service and was thought of as 'moderate' enough to even get the Sierra Club endorsement.

I think even Patrick was overwhelmed when he got to the stage after the crowd had long gotten tired of the Bucks County Democratic chair shooting the wind a bit too long. It was perhaps the most humble political speech you'll ever hear. Patrick had apparently been told that Fitzpatrick was conceding - but by one of the congressman's staffers, not by the incumbent himself. He thanked all of us for all the work we had done for him. He took time out to thank his family as well, and he spoke a little bit about the things he planned on fighting for - embryonic stem cell research, minimum wage increases, and affordable health care for everyone, as well as Iraq, of course. Some of the staffers from the campaign were getting emotional as he continued to speak; I can only imagine what it must have felt like for all of them to pour their hearts and their souls into a campaign every day - and to win by such a slim margin at that. In the end, Patrick told us he'd make us proud again - after a time when the GOP made us ashamed of being humans - and with that, he ended his speech to wild cheering and applause from the crowd.

I moved my way up through the crowd to shake Patrick's hand one last time. "Thank you for everything," I said. "Congratulations, Congressman."

He'll make us all proud.

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