COLUMBUS, Ohio – Right before some of the East Coast polls close, a little before 7 p.m., I park at a reasonable distance from the Renaissance Hotel and find the bar. That’s where the TVs are, so it’s where we will learn whether Virginia and New Hampshire are as close as Nate Silver says they are. I want to watch it with Ohio’s Republicans, and this is where they’ll be partying.
At 7, the Fox News ALERT came across the screen: Everything was close, especially New Hampshire and Virginia. A distracted crowd of Republicans looked up, pondered the lopsided raw vote numbers coming in from Kentucky, then went back to their conversations. Nothing would really count until Ohio.
I took the escalator up to the ballroom. Soon, they hoped, Buckeye Republicans would announce that they’d rescued the rest of America from the death-grip of Euro-socialism. They bought $4.75 beer tickets and swapped stories from the endless campaign. Mike Robinson, a 33-year-old small-business man who wore blue shorts with white stars, gripped a Bud Light and let me ask him about the final rounds of negative polls.
“I’m optimistic,” he says. “The president’s not going to get the same percentage of the African-American vote. They’re not going to come out again. He did a good job in 2008, but this year, I hear that their numbers are down.”
The 48 hours before this party were a flurry of rumors and numbers and buncombe. If you were a reporter jumping on conference calls, you heard each presidential campaign explain why the real early-vote advantage was in their precincts, or their counties. Republicans had great fun pointing out how much smaller Barack Obama’s crowds were—down tens of thousands from the ones that came out for John Kerry, and look what happened to that guy.
I run into Loren Spivak, a Massachusetts activist who has written two Doctor Seuss-style books about the Obama years under the nom de plume Dr. Truth. He was trying to figure out the numbers that had Obama leading New Hampshire.
“I know a lot of people in New Hampshire and they’re all for Romney,” he says. “But, you know, a lot of us live in our bubbles.”
Shortly after 8 p.m., the evening’s “program” begins. State GOP Chairman Bob Bennett ambles onstage, joined by state Auditor Dave Yost.
“I expect to join you to celebrate the election of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan as our president and vice president,” he says, not very convincingly. “And I expect to cheer with you when we announce a new United States senator from Ohio, Josh Mandel!”
By this time, those of us with smartphones have seen the exit polls for Ohio. If they’re only a little wrong, they still have Mandel, the youthful state treasurer, losing narrowly. If they’re right, they have Barack Obama winning the state, and the presidency.
They might not be wrong. From time to time, the PAs ask the crowd to move from their hallway hangouts back into the ballroom for the “program.” At 9:15, the Republican leaders return to share more words that sound like good news.
“I heard the networks were thinking about scrapping the map of the United States and calling it Ohio!” says Douglas Priesse, chairman of the GOP in Columbus’ Franklin County. “This is going to be a historic night. I saw Peggy Noonan on the TV, and she said: This is going to be a historic night in politics. I’m not sure the excitement is going to be as high on the other side!”