The Bush victory party.

Dispatches from Campaign 2004.
Nov. 3 2004 6:17 AM

The Bush Victory Party

Plus, poetic justice for the new Congress.

George W. Bush's last victory party, which took place four years ago in Austin, Texas, never quite got underway. There was some annoying business about a withdrawn concession phone call and a steady downpour of rain. This year's party, held inside the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C., was in one respect an improvement. There was no rain.

The evening began in the Reagan Building's giant, sloping atrium. The GOP herded its youngish volunteers into a mosh pit, jammed between the stage and the TV cameras. Vodka tonics were consumed, and the twentysomethings seemed poised for giddy celebration. Just after 12:30 a.m., Fox News awarded Ohio to Bush, bringing the president's electoral tally, by the network's count, to 266. Four more years! Alaska followed 20 minutes later, nudging Bush to 269. Four more years! At that point, a portly man wearing a blue suit and pin-striped shirt removed his "W Is Still President" lapel pin, held it aloft like a cigarette lighter, and began to lurch toward the stage.

But as soon as the crowd began to rock, Bush's glorious night ground to a halt. More than three hours passed without Fox awarding Bush a single electoral vote. Some of the other networks refused to give him Ohio. It wasn't that the remaining states were breaking for Kerry; they simply weren't breaking at all. The country band playing at the victory celebration exhausted its playlist and began glancing up nervously at the TV monitors. A producer with a ponytail and "W" hat waddled onstage and told them to keep playing. Reporters in the press row reached for their cell phones: The news from Boston was that John Edwards would take the stage and extend the election.

Ed Gillespie, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, dashed to the podium and, in a speech that lasted for the exact duration of Edwards', declared that Kerry couldn't possibly unearth 100,000 more votes in Ohio. The crowd whooped, but malaise was setting in. Wouldn't the president just get over here and declare victory already? Better yet, wouldn't Kerry just give up?

The heavy eyes were a marked shift from the evening's start, which was brimming with cautious optimism. As Bush swept the early states, Jeremy Bouma, a member of something called the Center for Christian Statesmanship, told me the expected surge in Democratic turnout would be offset by new evangelical voters. "My prayer going into this was that the evangelical vote was the X Factor," he said. Rosario Marin, a former U.S. treasurer, thought that Bush had succeeded in increasing his support among Hispanic voters. She was telling me why Latinos did not, in fact, oppose to the Iraq war when Gillespie announced that ABC had called Florida for Bush.

Aaaaaaaaah! she screamed, into my right ear."Oh, sorry." Then: Aaaaaaaaaah! "Oh, sorry." Aaaaaaaaaaaah! I told her she should go ahead and scream. After she caught her breath, Marin said: "I'm so happy. I'm so excited. My heart is pumping. I've got to call my husband." And then she was gone.

Bush never appeared at his 2000 victory party. Around 3 a.m. Wednesday, a question arose as to whether, in fact, he would appear at this one. CNN's John King reported that Bush had stormed into Karl Rove's office and asked the guru to let him declare victory. The reporters in the press room that weren't asleep let out a whoop. King later reported that Rove told the networks that if they would just call New Mexico for Bush, the president would make his way to the Reagan Building. The message was clear: I know you're tired. So give me the damn state.

At 5:05 a.m., an end—sort of. CNN reported that Bush wouldn't appear in person Wednesday morning; Andy Card, his chief of staff, would speak in his place. Card arrived in a room with a few dozen listless Republicans and said nothing memorable. Mario H. Lopez, one of the listless, declared, "I don't know how I cannot describe this night as historic." Then he glanced at someone's watch and said, "I think we're gonna get some breakfast and then get ready to go to work."  ... 3:17 a.m.

Party Monster: Welcome to George W. Bush's "victory" party in Washington, D.C. Sorta. Us news reporters have been herded into a giant white tent, yards away from the actual party, and contact with revelers looks unlikely. This is what the mob outside Studio 54 must have looked like, if only you upped the dweeb factor.

As the Washington Post's "Reliable Source" column notedthis morning: "Reporters wishing to cover the president's election night party will have to pay $300 for the privilege of a 3-by-2-foot work space and a padded seat in a tent nearby to watch the proceedings on television. … Small groups of media will be escorted into the atrium of the Ronald Reagan Building to look around—but they won't be allowed to talk to participants." For a White House that hates the press, handcuffing reporters on Victory Night seems appropriate.

Last-minute indicators of victory: The handful of people I saw shuffling out of the White House grounds looked grim. Someone who identified himself as a Homeland Security apparatchik looked ebullient. On Fox News, Bill Kristol and Mort Kondracke are wearing prepared smiles. ... 4:05 p.m.

Recriminations Watch—Hispanic-Vote Edition: In the category of what my friend Noam Scheiber calls "possibly meaningless anecdotal evidence," my relatives in Northern New Mexico report an inordinate number of Bush signs in the poor Hispanic colonias—communities that figured to go overwhelmingly to Kerry. The same relatives report that Hispanic men profess to have a cultural affinity with Bush, who they see as a tough, macho sort of guy. Again, meaningless, but it underscores a point: That's about the only thing Bush has going for him with the Hispanic community. The Bushies, who heralded their leader's minority-outreach miracles as Texas governor, have done a shoddy job of courting Hispanics since entering the White House.

A few months back, Antonio Gonzalez of the William C. Velasquez Institute told me that Kerry staffers had whiffed at the Democratic Convention. They featured too few Hispanic speakers; and the preoccupation with Iraq drew attention away from domestic issues affecting the poor. All Karl Rove had to do, Gonzalez said, was goad his keynote speakers into mumbling a few "qué pasas" and the Hispanic vote might tilt slightly to Bush. Well, it didn't happen and it hasn't happened. Most surveys show Bush polling around 30 percent to 35 percent of the Hispanic vote, about what he did in 2000. Even GOP apparatchiks, wishing for miracles, don't put Bush much above 40 percent.

If Bush loses tight races in Florida and New Mexico (and, God forbid, Nevada and Colorado), an early recrimination theory might be that Bush spent too little time chasing Hispanic voters. Then again, perhaps he didn't have a chance. The sour economy disproportionately affects Hispanic and black communities; so does the Iraq War, which draws foot soldiers from the poorest segments of the population. Though both candidates ran Spanish-language ads in the Southwest, the campaigns seemed, at times, to forget about Hispanic voters entirely. Remember the fixation on the gringo Spanish spoken (haltingly) by Al Gore and Bush in 2000? Did Bush and Kerry ignore Hispanic voters, or has the media processed them as stable members of the electorate?

Even if Bush should lose, the GOP would be wise to thank him for ratcheting up their Hispanic numbers to Ronald Reagan levels—and up from depths plumbed by the Bob Dole and George H.W. Bush campaigns. But for a man who wonEl Paso County in his 1998 gubernatorial race, 35 percent doesn't seem like much of a miracle. ... 1:11 p.m.

Tom DeLay's Poetic Justice: Tom DeLay's push to rejigger Texas' congressional districts, an effort that caused such a kerfuffle last year, has faded under the onslaught of Swift Boat Veterans, the Osama tape, and Al Qaqaa. But DeLay's gambit has been no less effective. Five Texas Democrats face re-election Tuesday in GOP-friendly districts, and even the most optimistic Dems predict that only one or two of them (probably Martin Frost or Chet Edwards) can survive. There's a better-than-even shot that allfive Democrats will lose, giving the House GOP majority an enormous boost.

But it's not all sad news. With an influx of new Republicans comes an infusion of unwitting comic genius. Most of this can be seen in the personage of Ted Poe. Poe, a former Houston felony court judge, kicked off his national political career in August by boldly proclaiming, "Now is not the time to be a French Republican."

On the bench in Houston, Poe styled himself as a remorseless, Wild West, hangin' judge in the tradition of Roy Bean. His brainchild was something he called "Poetic Justice." With "Poetic Justice," Poe sentenced criminals to public humiliations to teach them a lesson. Shoplifters who found themselves in front of Poe, for instance, had to stand outside the stores they pinched from carrying signs identifying themselves as criminals.

When a man robbed legendary Lone Ranger star Clayton Moore, Poe made the perp shovel manure 20 hours a month at the Houston police department's horse pens. The sentence was to last for 10 years.

The Club for Growth's Stephen Moore reports that Poe made convicted car thieves hand over their own cars to their victims. Convicted murderers were forced to visit their victims' grave sites; others felons had to hang their victims' pictures in their cells and, upon release, carry them in their wallets. According to the Houston Press, Poe slapped one homicidal drunken driver with the following the rap:

… boot camp; erecting and maintaining a cross and Star of David at the accident site; carrying pictures of the victims in his wallet for ten years; observing the autopsy of a drunk-driving victim; placing flowers on the graves of the two victims on their birthdays for the next ten years; and carrying a sign outside a bar that reads, "I killed two people while driving drunk."

This article describes the ambiance of Poe's Houston office: "a poster of Alcatraz, a painting of a scene from the battle of Gettysburg and a sign proclaiming, 'I really don't care how you did it up north.' "

As the Houston Chronicle reports, victims' relatives have charged that Poe would often fail to follow through on the harsh sentences—a revelation which comes as something of a relief. Slate eagerly awaits the punishments Poe metes out on congressional Democrats. ... 11:12 a.m.

A Snowball's Chance: If the election drifts into Mountain Time Tuesday, will John Kerry regret stiffing New Mexico? That's one theory being floated on Joe Monahan's superb New Mexico political blog tonight. George W. Bush visited the state Monday, Dick Cheney over the weekend. So, New Mexicans will wake up Tuesday to read triumphant Bush headlines like this and this, while they'll see news pictures of Kerry overnighting in Wisconsin.

Bill Richardson pulls all the puppet-strings in New Mexico, but there's mounting evidence that Kerry may be in trouble. The polls have looked limp. And there's a theory that Al Gore's slim margin in 2000—366 votes, all found days after the election—may be attributable to one thing: snow.

On Election Day 2000, a freak snowstorm blanketed "Little Texas," the swath of southeastern New Mexico known for its cultural and political kinship with its neighbor. Conservative voters in three counties stayed home in droves. With Gore running strong in northern New Mexico and narrowly winning Albuquerque, the snowed-in voters may have cost Bush the state.

Tuesday's weather report: This site says "rain and snow showers will linger" near the region. Kerry may need every flake and drop.  … 12:01 a.m.

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Monday, Nov. 1 2004

The ESPN Primary: "Mr. President, I am wondering how you feel about taxpayers having to have a financial burden placed on them for building new stadiums and new facilities for existing teams?" So went The Candidates: Election 2004,ESPN's special last night that valiantly tried to make Tuesday's contest into a referendum on professional sports. Jim Gray, the thinking man's Ahmad Rashad, the guy who hones his interview technique on coaches trying to sneak off the court before halftime ("So, uh, how do you prepare for the second half?"), landed interviews with both candidates. With its modus operandi inching ever closer to that of Sabado Gigante, it's groovy to see ESPN put on its serious face once in a while—for the shtick to give way to grave pronouncements about THE WORLD BEYOND SPORTS. Except that Gray never acknowledged that such a thing existed.

In response to a question about ticket prices, Bush replied, "I was always concerned when I was with the Rangers that our ticket prices would become so high that the family would be priced out of baseball." Perhaps this is why Bush helped build the Ballpark at Arlington, one of the most expensive venues in baseball and one of its most soulless. For his part, Kerry repeated his I-stand-with-the-working-man pabulum, suggesting that fathers were looting their children's college funds to sit at club level.

Asked to name his favorite athlete, Kerry, of course, straddled, ticking off a fair slice of the Boston Bruins' first line and, for swing-state mojo, a handful of Detroit Red Wings. Bush got another chance to coo about his clutch performance during the 2001 World Series. And that's about as deep as our man Gray got. There are some reasonably interesting questions to ask about sports, such as why it remains one of the viciously anti-gay segments of public life, a black mark that is ignored when it isn't celebrated.

But why get huffy when you can ask both candidates, as Gray did, what should be done about Pete Rose, who after his selfless act of contrition last winter finds himself no closer to baseball's Hall of Fame? This is the kind of spitball that will get you hooted off most respectable sports radio shows, but the candidates tried their level best. Bush said Rose had never really apologized to baseball. Kerry straddled, then agreed. You could see the nervous flicker in both men's eyes—Bush: Christian values!; Kerry: Cincinnati values!—as they tried outflank one another on Charlie Hustle's quagmire.  ... 10:02 p.m.

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