On Election Night, the Capital Opts for a Few-Party System
The hilarious calls came in last week from well-meaning out-of-towners: "Where are all the fabulous election-night parties in Washington?"
Fabulous parties? In Washington? On election night? For all the revelry in private homes and bars, for all the street celebrations, it's historically a drab night for Official Washington.
The political and media superstars were all working last night, duh. Campaign insiders were in Phoenix and Chicago; pundits were in the greenrooms.
In the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency, hundreds of Democrats in work garb stood elbow to elbow. Nancy Pelosi was glimpsed going in, but she wasn't mingling -- maybe upstairs in one of those better, more exclusive parties we kept hearing about? Instead, we got Steny Hoyer on the press riser, and onstage, ladies and gentlemen, Kendrick Meek and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, two actual congresspeople to party with you!
"I kind of wish I'd stayed at work longer," a young lawyer confided to us. Didn't give his name -- future in politics, etc. "Isn't the big party over at the Mayflower?" asked his friend from the Commerce Department. "It's like a Ponzi scheme. The people who can't get into this think this one's great."
At the Capital Hilton, RNC Chairman Mike Duncan did a quick drop-by before heading back to the office to monitor results. We heard that White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten was there, but we never spotted him. We did find Virginia's former senator George Allen in the lobby. "I thought I should come by and say hi to a few people," he told us. Making the rounds of really exclusive soirees? "I'm going to this one party," he said.
Truth is, the point of the official gatherings was to drink to celebrate -- or drink, period. The tab for a cocktail at the RNC's bash? A hefty $7.75. But the party was jammed to the rafters: 1,000 people (most under 30) enjoying a sumptuous buffet, a live band and flat-screen TVs everywhere. "There's a lot of McCain-Palin supporters in town, and we wanted to show our support for them," spokesman Brian Walton said.
Why so few big bashes? "Campaign exhaustion," said Michael Petruzzello, managing partner of Qorvis Communications, which threw a bipartisan party for 500 at its downtown office. "I think a lot of people will be in bed -- the covers pulled over their head -- with Fox or MSNBC on."
The Qorvis party featured plenty of food and booze (everyone got a button saying, "I don't really care how you voted, I'm just here for the drinks") and creepily lifelike wax figures of President Bush and Barack Obama from the local Madame Tussauds museum. Photo op!
At the Madison Hotel, the D.C. Dems didn't fuss about the $9 drinks. Everyone was dancing or hugging, and smiling from ear to ear. Jessie Watkins didn't sell many of her $20 Obama "President of the United States" T-shirts -- but it didn't matter. "It's a new year," she said.
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