Political Animal


November 06, 2012 2:45 PM Election Night Memories

By Ed Kilgore

The thing about being an old goat of a political junkie is that you can remember a lot of Election Nights. This is my eleventh presidential election as a registered voter. I’ll share some special memories of past quadrennial festivals, and invite readers to offer their own in the comment thread.

1972: Spent that evening at the Election Night party of the late, great Manuel Maloof, whose Atlanta tavern was for many years (and may still be, for all I know), the most popular watering hole in that city among political people and journalists. Manuel was running for chairman of the Dekalb County (a large Atlanta suburb) Commission, and the night was not going well for Democrats, to put it mildly. At one point, with Manuel barely trailing his Republican opponent, Manuel shouted to the depressed folks drinking his booze: “We’re bucking an 80-20 trend!” That was how badly Nixon was trouncing McGovern in Dekalb. Manuel lost that night (along with all local Democrats, though Sam Nunn did get elected to the Senate amidst massive ticket-splitting), but came back to win four years later and stayed in office for many years.

1976: I was in law school in Athens, Georgia, at this point, and given Jimmy Carter’s presidential bid, an awful lot of us stayed up late to watch the local boy win when Hawaii was finally called, and missed an early morning Torts class. The professor, a legendary eccentric, was displeased and held a pop test. The questions on it, moreover, wound up representing a big chunk of the year’s end final exam, on which I did very poorly. Jimmy’s a big reason I never wound up practicing law.

1980: Since the results were pretty much fore-ordained, I mainly remember sitting at work at the Georgia State Capitol while a co-worker excitedly ran around spreading false cheer about incredibly high turnout among African-Americans in “the North.” Later, the big shock wasn’t Reagan’s margin of victory, but the GOP’s sweep of every single close Senate race, giving them control of that chamber for the first time since 1954. That included a win in Georgia—despite Carter’s landslide there—by the very accidental Senator Mack Mattingly, who ended the Talmadge political dynasty by beating “Hummin.”

1984: As a hard-core Garry Hart supporter, I derived some grim satisfaction from the dimensions of the Mondale debacle, but it was very grim.

1988: My first election in DC, providing a close-up glimpse of how the real pros spent Election Night: angling for media time to promote their careers! The results didn’t surprise me. At a meeting of high-level Lloyd Bentsen advisors right after the convention (at which I got to eavesdrop), when Dukakis was up by 17 points, a poll of the attendees revealed nobody believing the ticket would ultimately win.

* 1992: Perhaps my favorite. I was teaching an evening class called “Election Watch,” and arranged to have the final meeting on Election Night at—you guessed it—Manuel’s Tavern in Atlanta. At the stroke of 7:00, Georgia was the first state called for Clinton.

* 1996: Back in DC, I spent the entire evening feeding election data to my boss, who was on McNeil-Lehrer providing analysis.

* 2000: Ah, the nightmare that wouldn’t end! Staffing the DLC office while many of my colleagues were in Nashville waiting for Al Gore’s victory statement, I watched the incredible network call of the election for Bush and seconds later, noticed that Gore had all but eliminated W.’s lead in Florida. But my favorite moment was even later, when I got a call from an obsessive friend who wanted me to know: “We’re not going to win Arizona.” That state had been called about three hours earlier.

* 2004: The most painful of them all, even worse than 2000, because (1) I was very personally invested in the Kerry campaign from start to finish, and (2) I had gotten accidental real-time access to the exit polls. I should have known something was awry when I saw one state’s exits showing a 60% female electorate. But instead, I kept calling relatives in Georgia telling them to ignore the results on their TV screens, until a friend working for Kerry in Florida told me the shocking news: “We’re done in Florida, and we’re done nationally.”

* 2008: In DC that night, I sat working on my laptop at some free hooch-and-food event sponsored by some group or other, and happened to leave just as the first network called it for Obama. Stepping out onto a downtown Washington street, it seemed like the world’s best block party. Just a fantastic feeling that finally healed the wounds of ‘04.

Tonight I’ll be right here at my computer in relative quiet, hoping the Bad Things don’t recur, plunging us into Overtime again.

What Election Night memories do you have?

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • CharlieM on November 06, 2012 3:00 PM:

    While I turned up many a pitcher of Andecker at Manuel's Tavern in the 70's, I spent that '72 night at a friends house watching the returns. I still remember the horror of watching state after state going for Nixon (and distinctly remember cheering that MA, at least, held out). But yah, Manuel's at North and Highland was the place to be in those days (70s). Manuel made a mint on all the pitchers they brought to me (and those pinball machines in the back room - spent a fortune in quarters).

  • Big Al on November 06, 2012 3:04 PM:

    EK: "1972: Spent that evening at the Election Night party of the late, great Manuel Maloof, whose Atlanta tavern was for many years (and may still be, for all I know), the most popular watering hole in that city among political people and journalists."

    I live 3 blocks from Manuel's and I can report that it still is, especially with Dems. Lawyers too!

    Should be rocking tonight, at least for the result at the top of the ticket. Down ticket races, well, not so much!

  • Karen on November 06, 2012 3:04 PM:

    It's 3pm on the east coast. Someone should know something: what's turnout in Pennsylvania? How is Ohio going? Please, those of us marooned in the red zone want some good news,

  • T2 on November 06, 2012 3:07 PM:

    in 2000....seeing the networks scramble to figure out what they were seeing when Gore took the lead in Florida. Hearing reports of George W. Bush frantically,hysterically calling his brother Jeb in Florida and demanding he "fix it". Seeing a few hundred votes rob the nation of the person they wanted in the White House. Then, days later, finding out just what the term "Activist Court" really meant when the US Supreme Court said "just this once, we'll pick who we want to be your president".

  • ManOutOfTime on November 06, 2012 3:08 PM:

    1976: I was all of 12 years old and couldn't stay up late enough to see Carter clinch, but woke in the morning to find a poster on my wall that my dad had made with a drawing of Mr. Peanut and "Say Good Morning to President Carter!"

    1988: Volunteered as a poll worker in West Hollywood and when we were packing up the ballots guess what I saw lots of: hanging chads! It was very windy that night, and I walked home with my girlfriend desolate that Dukakis would actually be losing and so badly.

    1992: Precinct Captain in West Hollywood for the combined Clinton / Feinstein / Boxer campaign. Celebrities in and out of our HQ all day; coming back with GOTV results and having my regional whisper in my ear "landslide." Much better night than four years before: cheers when Bush conceded, tears when Clinton gave victory speech.

    2000: Went to bed when election was called for Bush. Couldn't sleep; listened to the winds howling: feared they were signs and portents.

    2004: Try not to think about it.

    2008: Wept.

  • BillFromPA on November 06, 2012 3:12 PM:

    McGovern '72 was my first, too. We were going to end the war, legalize pot etc etc. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that McGovern's improbable march to the nomination was paved by the Plumbers and Donald Segretti and his tricksters. Since then the GOP has only gotten worse, but at least it's all more in the open now. The MSM is being forced to address voter supression and other such election rigging. I'm looking forward the 'Civil War' I keep hearing about, within the Right when Mittens loses. Like the cockroach, they'll probably survive in an even more vile incarnation.

  • EastFallowfield on November 06, 2012 3:12 PM:

    1980, Lone Star Cafe, NYC.

    Chatted with Levon Helm, he tells me Carter lost to Reagan.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on November 06, 2012 3:13 PM:

    2008 in DC. Yes, I was there in that crush of citizens that overran the streets. My sister and I were going to celebrate at some night club (Park???), but alas, we hit Florida Ave and U Streets, and couldn't go any further. Traffic was at a dead stand still because people were jumping out of cars and hugging random strangers in the street.

    No big deal. We just hopped out of the car and celebrated too. Shit, I was able to leave my car illegally parked, the windows down, and the keys in the ignition for the two hour impromptu block party. The only time I've ever been in a crowd in DC--at night--and didn't have to worry about my safety. Every body was happy, and there was definitely the potential for random hook-ups. Amazingness.

    But I will be shit, the following morning I did find that a parking ticket was placed on my windshield at 9AM. Seriously, history was just made and these mo-fos were writing tickets already!!! I still haven't paid it either. It's a souvenir as far as I'm concerned.

  • schtick on November 06, 2012 3:13 PM:

    I remember feeling very ill in both 2000 and 2004 when I went to bed and being ill for the whole four years following.
    Although everyone lays the blame for Carter's losing on the rescue mission, I think a lot of families and friends were really still pissed about him not letting the athletes compete in the Olympics. A whole lot of time and money spent on training and he even made sure they wouldn't represent other countries. That to me was the bigger sin of the two when we as a country condemn other countries for using politics and then we do the same exact thing.

    crapcha...lHearn escapement....escape is correct.

  • bh on November 06, 2012 3:16 PM:

    1980: I don't remember the night itself, but I do remember the next day, when my 3rd grade teacher had us all write letters to St. Ronnie. "Though I would not have voted for you, I thought your speech was impressive" is the part I remember.

    1988: Mainly remember a face-to-face encounter with this idiot: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robin_Ficker

    2004: Saw the same misleading exit polls as everyone else, then took the advice I read somewhere (New Donkey?) to go to sleep for a bit and check back when things had settled. While asleep, I had a dream that I got up, checked the results, and saw a Kerry victory. Then I woke up for real. That. sucked.

    2008: Spent the evening in Grant Park. Though Obama seemed likely to win from the start of the night, it was still an enormous relief to hear him declared the victor so early and unequivocally on the giant TV screens that had been set up for the event. May we be so lucky again.

  • Mustang Bobby on November 06, 2012 3:20 PM:

    1972: Cast my first vote for McGovern and then had to endure a college professor chanting "Four More Years!" the next morning.

    1976: Grad school at the University of Minnesota; voted for Carter in the lobby of my building (we were the precinct for the neighborhood in Minneapolis) and the city was excited to have a home-town boy become president.

    1980: Evansville, Indiana, teaching high school English, and stunned to see the night over before it really began.

    1984: Grad school in Boulder, and in my basement apartment where all my friends were shocked to see Mondale lose; he had all the votes in Boulder, didn't he?

    1988: Worked on the Dukakis campaign but waited at home for the results. Still in Colorado, it was an early and disappointing night.

    1992: Petoskey, Michigan: A very conservative town that went for Bill Clinton, anyway, and I remember my neighbor shooting off fireworks.

    1996: Working in Albuquerque, again it was an early night, but a good one this time.

    2000: I went to bed thinking Bush had won and thought, "Oh, well, how bad can he be?"

    2004: In Miami; worked on the Kerry campaign and canvassed. I thought he had it in the bag and called my parents in Ohio to ask them what the hell happened.

    2008: Alone in my home in Miami, in my favorite recliner, savoring hearing Keith Olbermann announce that Barack Obama was the 44th President.

    2012: I'll be in the same recliner tonight... with a lap-top live-blogging.

  • Mustang Bobby on November 06, 2012 3:22 PM:

    Edit: 1976: I meant "a home-town boy become VICE president" (Fritz Mondale).

  • Hue and Cry on November 06, 2012 3:22 PM:

    I was treated poorly at my polling place--in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Not once but **twice** I was asked to show voter ID. It did not feel like an "ask." Right away it was apparent that-in typical Corbett Republican state intimidation-- paper sheets were front and center on the tables where you first identify yourself. They had the huge "hand holding a drivers license"--making it seem that you needed a driver's license to vote, and above reading in huge letters VOTER ID. I grabbed one of the papers. It was prominently placed for voters--ALTHOUGH--it read "Learn what photo ID you will need for coming elections."
    I did not rebel but showed the ID yet stated to poll staff that I am not required to show voter ID because the courts stopped this law for implentation at this election 11/6/12.
    They acted pissed. At that time I was again asked to show ID. Again I protested, saying I am asked twice???
    I went to vote at the computer--not many people there--and woman came over and told me to close my jacket--the only thing visible on my tee shirt was AFT--teachers union.
    I had my coat shut. It was a blue tee shirt for Obama. I could not believe she interrupted my voting to tell me to close my coat.
    When I got outside I was verbally abused by one of the staff standing less than 100 feet from the door--where people hand out candidate information that people tend to carry in as they go.
    I will deal with this--just wanted to let folks know that voter intimidation is alive in tea-partyville Pennsylvania.
    Can you imagine someone coming up to you when you are engaged in voting? Interrupt you and tell you to close your coat?
    Can you stand that a law was put on hold by the courts in PA. about showing ID -- and poll workers act like you MUST show ID when that is not the case?

  • Quatrain Gleam on November 06, 2012 3:25 PM:

    On Election Night of 2004, I remember going to the online precinct reports of voting in Ohio and seeing that the difference between Bush and Kerry results were identical in 2 precincts. And identical in 2 other precincts. And 2 other precincts. And a set of 3 precincts where the difference was the same. And Bush led in all cases.

    For example,

    Precinct A: 4536 votes Bush ; 3529 votes Kerry ; difference 1007
    Precinct B: 5423 votes Bush ; 4416 votes Kerry ; difference 1007

    Precinct C: 7563 votes Bush ; 6023 votes Kerry ; difference 1540
    Precinct D: 8456 votes Bush ; 6916 votes Kerry ; difference 1540

    etc. 3 pairs of precincts and 1 trio of precincts. The statistical likelihood of this borders on "impossible." Oh I wish I had had the presence of mind to take a screenshot. By morning it was all washed away.

  • artsmith on November 06, 2012 3:28 PM:

    1980. Living in CA, working on my Master's in Political Science. At home, getting depressed by the moment. Nothing to do but have some Scotch and put Steppenwolf's "Monster" on the stereo. Over and over again...

  • Sean Scallon on November 06, 2012 3:35 PM:

    Well as I recall my first memory of Election Night was 1980 and Reagan had wrapped up early so the local independent TV station in Rockford, Ill. was playing some of his old movies until dawn.

  • potomacupstream on November 06, 2012 3:46 PM:

    1980: In college, where Anderson had like 90% of the vote. Wore black the next day, very out of place on a quaint New England campus.

    1984: My delusional Republican phase. Working as an analyst on Wall Street. Happy and blinkered.

    1988: Back to my Dem roots. Didn't expect Dukakis to win, but I was at B-school in MA so at least got to commiserate in sympathetic company.

    1992: Living in Japan, celebrating an election party at the home of my boss Bill...and his wife Hillary. True fact! OD'd on Fleetwood Mac.

    1996: On a business trip in Ukraine, paid no attention to the foregone conclusion that was Election Day.

    2000: Working in Moscow, had to spend many hours trying to explain our idiotic Electoral College system to many ex-Soviets full of Schadenfreude. In Russian, to make it even more surreal.

    2004: Despondent in DC. More morose faces in one single NW-4 home than imaginable. Ohio felt like a gut punch.

    2008: With friends in Morgantown WV. Adamantly refusing to believe it would be that easy. Didn't exhale till Ohio. Ate drank and was merry.

    2012: Will alternately liveblog and play with my 4-yeard old niece, and won't exhale till OH, or VA, or NV, or...

  • c u n d gulag on November 06, 2012 3:52 PM:

    1976 was the first election that I could vote.
    Nobody told me I had to register first.
    All of that American history, and Civics, and Social Studies, and NOBODY told me that I had to actually go and register before I could go and vote.
    And I went to a pretty damn good HS, too.

    1980, went, registered and voted, and one of my closest friends, who is black, and I drank beer and Old Grandad 101 at my house, while we watched the results of that debacle. We basically called every sh*tty thing that was going to happen to this country with remarkable accuracy - amazing, considering that that was probably as drunk as I've ever been.

    And 2008, well, what can I say. I was the first person to declare for Obama at a meeting of NC Democrats in Fayetteville, back in 2007, and people called me nuts.
    I was in Wilmington, NC, for 5 weeks before, and the week of, the election, for work, and I drove Democrats to the polls in that city - sad that I wasn't home in Fayetteville, with my Obama cohorts.

    And Obama narrowly won Cumberland County, and NC!

    Ah, happy days. Fun times.

  • T2 on November 06, 2012 4:07 PM:

    oh, and one more thought I had at the end of the 2000 election: That national elections were never going to be the same again. That there was going to be "funny business" from now on.

  • katmom on November 06, 2012 4:14 PM:

    My family was intensely political and leftist. Long before I could vote for the first time (1976), I spent election night with my parents, glued to the TV, cheering on the Democrats. They are some of the best memories of my childhood.

  • 4jkb4ia on November 06, 2012 4:21 PM:

    1992-96: None.

    2000: Vague memory of high-fiving mom when it was clear that Mel Carnahan was going to win. We were so glad to get rid of Ashcroft that we didn't think about the nation's future with him.

    2004: Worked the polls all day. Husband came to pick me up and I was grim, thinking that they should call Ohio for Bush and get it over with already. Stayed up until 1 am. Cheered Pennsylvania. Got up the next morning and Kerry had conceded. Sat on floor and felt that life was not worth living. Worse than Game 7 of 2003 ALCS.

    2008: Was so scared that McCain would find some way to pull it out that I spent the whole day at the Wash.U. library. I could not stay home. If my husband wasn't sick I would have been doing the same thing again today. About 6 pm I checked nytimes.com, and Mark Warner was winning going away. That wasn't any surprise. Then about 8 pm it was clear from 538 that Obama had it and they were only waiting to call the West Coast.
    So I went home, and Obama's victory was announced on the bus. I ate dinner at the same place where I had eaten it before the Obama victory party for Iowa and saw the Grant Park speech on TV. I was the only one who cheered David Plouffe. Between 10 and 11 pm, I got home, and my McCain-voting husband said, "You're happy, aren't you?" Tried to stay up to see what was going on with Begich but NBC went off the air at 1 am.

    (Husband voted for Obama today. People were very nice and let him use the elevator and sit down until it was his turn.)
    (He has Parkinson's Disease. He had the DBS surgery but it didn't let him go back to work because a lot of the tremors are from stress. 4jkb4ia and husband are VERY lucky in the sense that all of you, by giving your taxpayer dollars to buy airplanes, have made sure that we have good insurance for the time being.)

  • JMG on November 06, 2012 4:23 PM:

    Had a big election night party in Canbridge 1980. Bought tons of Armenian food in Watertown. Ate it until Christmas because nobody who came did anything but drink heavily and morosely. One friend, not a big drinker at all, had finished off about one-fourth of a fifth of Jack Daniels he'd bought to bring before he rang the doorbell. Liquor store was a block and a half away.
    I can laugh about it now. Elections don't seem quite as monumental when you're younger. Every four years, I get more anxious before the election and the losses hurt exponentially worse each time.

  • vvo on November 06, 2012 4:40 PM:

    Became a citizen in 2008, so my first vote was for Obama. My second one too, this year.
    And I was at Manuel's Tavern in Atlanta, and I am planning on going tonight, with another one of the lone Democrats from my office

  • Josey Wales Motor Sales on November 06, 2012 4:53 PM:

    First one I remember was 1992. It was my first election and I was excited. I had to work that evening as a stringer for the radio station that employed me back then, phoning in returns from the courthouse one county over. They still used paper ballots and tabulation was slow, and one ballot box didn't come in until almost midnight. Got home just in time to watch Clinton's victory speech. Bummed that I didn't get to watch the evening unfold, but the job I had that evening was kind of cool.

    1996: No real memory other than being glad it was over.

    2000: Living in Broward County, Florida. Voted early that morning; noted it was the strangest ballot I'd ever seen. Went to work; had to work late that evening. On the way home, I heard Robert Siegel on NPR call Florida for Al Gore. Spent the rest of the evening watching things get weird; spent next few weeks wondering what was happening to my beloved country; spent Christmas holidays being teased by relatives about how Florida people didn't know how to vote.

    2004: Not living in Florida (thankfully). Watched returns until bedtime. Woke up mid-morning and checked returns again; saw handwriting on the wall, tossed and turned rest of the morning.

    2008: Watched the returns in my living room. Got genuinely choked up when Obama was declared the winner.

    2012: Don't know what's going to happen, but at the very least I have several bottles of beer in the refrigerator. Here's hoping I use them for celebration and not solace in a few hours.

  • TCinLA on November 06, 2012 5:54 PM:

    I'll never forget the 1960 election, the first one I participated in (as a volunteer, not as a voter) and staying up till the wee small hours so I could say "showed you!" to my anti-Catholic/Masonic-bigot father, the first of many deep political arguments we would have over the next 12 years (the next week I quit DeMolay).

    I'll also never forget the 1968 California primary. Just after they called it for RFK, I went into the back bedroom to use the john, came out and saw on the TV in the room that he'd just been assassinated. By the time I could bring myself to walk into the front room, the party was most definitely over, though the heavy drinking had just begun.

    Was working at a political call center in 2008. When they announced Obama's victory in 2008, the room ERUPTED IN SCREAMS of joy.

  • TCinLA on November 06, 2012 6:01 PM:

    I'm certainly happy to report that for the 13th time, I didn't vote for that damn Republican, Dianne Feinstein (only got taken in by her once, in 1969 when she first ran for Board of Supes). How nice it would be to have that @#$%$#$@ die in office (along with my boss and the brother-in-law of Nancy Pelosi and the wonderful Mayor George Moscone, I was and active part of the anti-Dianne Mafia in SF in the 1970s - I'm sure George still rests uneasy that she managed to parlay his assassination as she has) and then work on a special campaign to elect Robert Reich to that office.

  • beejeez on November 06, 2012 6:21 PM:

    I've obsessed about presidential elections since 68, but 76 was my first voting one, and 80 was the one that lifted the scales from my eyes. I had convinced myself that nobody, nobody could seriously vote for an empty suit like Reagan, especially after the debates revealed Carter's superior command of facts and logic. As the landslide became apparent that night, I resolved never again to let ideology thaw my ice-cold objectivity when assessing political reality. Thank God I've stuck to that resolution or my heart would've broken many times since then. Wish I'd been as smart and disciplined about other things.

  • Rose on November 06, 2012 6:36 PM:

    My first vote was in 1984,(for you know who) I was a Republican then and was happy and stupid, and voted for H. W. Bush in '88.

    Then I remember Bush puking on the Japanese Prime Minister.And I remember him being moderate, not a crazy Republican. Then in 1992 for re-election, I remember Pres. Bush sneering about Arkansas,can't remember what is what about but I thought, WTF? Arkansas is part of the U.S. And I took a closer look at Clinton, and voted for him.

    And then Monica-gate, I was disgusted with the repubs and switched my party registration and voted again for Big Dog. I was proud to do so, and happy he won, again!

    In 2008 I was for Hillary in the primary, but voted for Obama, and took of that Wednesday to watch the inaugeral festivities.

    Hope tomorrow is a good day!

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