Democrats nervous, then fearing the worst

Election night delivers heartbreak and vindication

8:50 p.m. Tuesday night, Ward 1 - Between 100 and 200 students gather in a relatively low-key atmosphere, lounging in chairs and eating sandwiches with friends. The College Democrats and AU Students for Kerry have decorated the room with streamers and posters reading "Help is on the way" and "Nov. 2: Regime change." A few hundred red, white and blue balloons hang in clear plastic from the ceiling.

NBC is playing on the two massive TV screens, showing that 56 percent of Florida voters support President Bush. "Booo!" the students say.

8:59 - A chant of "6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1!" as polls close in several states. Five are projected for Bush, but Sen. John Kerry gets Nebraska. "Yeah, Nebraska!" the crowd shouts.

9:02 - College Democrats Vice President Joe Gallina gives a speech thanking club members for their work on Kerry's behalf. "We're going to f--ing win tonight!" he says to more cheers. "Actually, I'm not sure, and we're really nervous, but don't tell anyone."

9:23 - Freshman Joe Kelly, a member of the AU Socialists and Social Democrats, sits in front of an overhead projector with his laptop computer, since he is in charge of the electoral vote map on the wall at the front of the room. Within the last 20 minutes he has colored in four more states for Bush and one for Kerry.

"I got a really bad feeling [Bush is] going to win," Kelly says.

9:45 - Jon Dawood, president of AU Students for Kerry, speaks before showing a slide show of the club's work for the Democrat.

"I think tonight we're going to see the end of an administration that has wreaked havoc on America," Dawood says.

9:55 - "I think it's going to be really close, and we'll probably have a lot of controversy," sophomore Stephanie Massaro says of the night's outcome. She is taking a class with history professor Allan Lichtman, whose "13 Keys" have correctly predicted every presidential election since 1988. Even Lichtman doesn't know what to expect, Massaro says.

9:57 - Kelly's map had Nebraska half red and half blue, since that state splits its electoral votes. Now he replaces the blue half with a question mark of each color.

10:01 - "I'm confident we're going to win, but anxiety is building up," Dawood says. "Not to be pessimistic or anything, but I'm wondering what to do if we don't win ... and I'm also wondering when to drop these balloons."

Tuesday morning he read about a Florida woman who voted on an electronic machine, and her intended Democratic votes kept switching to Republican until lawyers got involved. The projected advantage Bush has in Florida makes him nervous - "I feel like that shouldn't be how it is," he says.

By now Nebraska is completely red on Kelly's map.

10:17 - The wall map is still updated as the crowd watches "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart." When Arkansas and Missouri go Republican, Bush has 193 electoral votes to Kerry's 112. Freshman Imani Kane says, "193! Oh, Jesus!"

Kane's 18th birthday is in December.

"At first I was really bummed that I couldn't vote, but then I decided to just do everything I could," she says. She went on one campaign trip to Pennsylvania and has talked politics with her friends, she said.

10:27 - "Fortunately, I have the ability to move back to Australia," says graduate student Chris Perricone. He has dual citizenship because his parents used to work in Australia and he was born there.

Perricone continues: "I kind of hope [Bush] wins because Australia's a much cooler place, better food and cheaper, but at the same time I worry about what happens if..."

10:50 - CNN projects Pennsylvania for Kerry. Students cheer and pump their fists for several minutes.

"I'm glad I absentee voted," says Laura Warman, a freshman from York, Pa.

11:00 - More jumping, clapping and cheering as California is projected for Kerry. The balloons drop.

11:05 - College Democrats President Greg Wasserstrom announces that people are still voting in some cities in Ohio.

11:21 - Independent candidate Ralph Nader shows up on the screen. "I have to go. I can't watch Nader," sophomore Emily Bird says. She and her two friends walk out.

11:29 - Eleven states have amendments on their ballots that would prohibit same-sex marriage. Students boo and shout "No!" at the screen as CNN announces that 10 have passed.

"It makes me nervous because Republicans generally support stuff like that," freshman Jessica Skinner says. But junior Frankie Martin says marriage and civil unions are different, and Kerry is also against gay marriage.

12:10 a.m. - CNN projects Florida for Bush. "No! Boo!" the crowd says. "If we win Ohio, it doesn't matter," says freshman Ben Dwertman.

Students are unsure.

"At this point I'm thinking it could go either way. I had a lot of hope earlier but now I'm not sure," junior Anjuli Aiyappa says. "No matter who's president, the daily life of college students and average Americans doesn't change a whole lot."

12:35 - "With 80 percent of precincts reporting in Ohio ... we just climbed one percentage point," Students for Kerry Communications Director Ashley Mushnick announces. "There's still hope."

12:40 - More applause as CNN projects Oregon for Kerry, but several students say they don't feel any better. "I'm just waiting on Ohio," says Denise Sylla, a student at Montgomery College.

1:28 - Wasserstrom is at the podium again, predicting that the race will end up in court.

"This is our future we're talking about and this is our country we're talking about, and regardless of whether it's President Bush or President Kerry, we can't stop the work we started this semester," Wasserstrom says to more cheers. "We have President Bush to thank for waking us up and getting us out in the streets."

1:38 - "The current margin between Bush and Kerry is less than 100,000 voters in Ohio right now," Mushnick announces. About 50 students remain, and they cheer a bit as they pop balloons and throw them away.

2:30 - CNN projects Michigan and Minnesota for Kerry. "Oh my God, I love the Midwest," a woman says.

Others express some optimism as well.

"Even though Bush took a lot of votes in the beginning, it only took a couple states to come back," freshman Chris Smith says.

3:14 - The channel is changed to ABC.

3:20 - Wasserstrom takes down the map on the overhead and paper numbers keeping track of the electoral vote count.

3:25 - Wasserstrom says, "Ladies and gentlemen, I think it might be time." Dawood waves everyone out of the room.

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