Party Politics

The aura of democracy, the smell of cheap booze

James Gibson appears mildly flustered by the halo of interviewers and well-wishers that surround him at Gabe's, more like a nervous boy at his bar mitzvah than a politician at his campaign party. He smoothly recites stock answers to the questions posed by the press contingent, with no trace of the disarming stutter that was present during the watershed Fitzgerald Forum debate. "It's been a phenomenal experience, and I'm really pleased with the turnout," Gibson tells me. "I've been at this 20 months, it's come to a crescendo, and it's a relief to have it be over."

Minnesota Senate candidate Jim Pitham (whose mildly suggestive signs reading "Who's Your Senator?" decorated the Anoka County landscape this fall) is feeling the pressure a bit more than his comrade. "'Bout ready to start drinkin'," he whispers to Independence Party secretary Dick Dietz. "Hey, I give you permission," bellows Dietz, looking exceptionally casual in his plaid flannel. "Polls're closed."

The Green Party is not about names, celebrity politicians, or talking heads. The Green Party is about issues (and homemade bars). Which is why only warm, sincere applause greets Minnesota House candidate Holle Brian as she takes the mic. Brian has no real obligation to give a concession speech, given that she never expected to win. Her modest showing in the polls gives the Greens some credence, as well as some financial support. But the Greens' commitment to issues doesn't explain the slumber-party atmosphere when it's announced that the event is on a list of Green Party parties nationwide that will receive a phone call from Ralph Nader himself. To pass the time, several attendees attempt to call Winona LaDuke's house on the speaker phone, continuously redialing after busy signals, only to be disappointed when the hoped-for rings finally go unanswered.

They came, they watched TV, they went home: Doing the election-night shuffle with U.S. Senate candidate James Gibson (top) and spouses/still-incumbents Bill and Darlene Luther (bottom)
Teddy Maki
They came, they watched TV, they went home: Doing the election-night shuffle with U.S. Senate candidate James Gibson (top) and spouses/still-incumbents Bill and Darlene Luther (bottom)

In the absence of PR-groomed candidates to interrogate, I go looking for party head honchos. My search yields only people willing to talk if I agree not to refer to them as party head honchos. Green Party associate Tom Taylor doesn't waste a second when I ask exactly what it is they're celebrating tonight. "The database of the Greens has swelled so much because of this campaign. Now we're gonna be able to offer up a couple of viable candidates for city council. And that's where these guys come in," Taylor barks, attempting in vain to flag down several passersby.

The only party still breathing at 1:00 a.m. is the Grand Old Party. The second floor of the Radisson looks like the home of a high school kid whose parents have failed to materialize after a trip out of town. Potted palms have turned into receptacles for everything from empty bottles to cigarette butts to discarded Rod Grams T-shirts. A young woman wearing enough diamonds to rival the gross national product of several countries holds an ice-filled rag to her head. Another woman herds five sluggish preteens into the coatroom. "Wasn't this fun?" she asks them. "This was neat. It was fun, wasn't it?"

Ties loosened, jackets cast aside, those who've vowed to stay till the bitter end muster cheers each time the electoral-college vote deadlock is flashed on the giant monitor. "Some of the women in my office were going to vote Democrat," one man sniffs disdainfully. "I mean, what's wrong with them? Don't they like their money?" An elderly fellow wearing patriotic suspenders drops his chin to his chest, snoring upright in his folding chair. A father and his young son also surrender to the need for sleep, taking turns watching for new results.

A mass exodus seems to coincide with the end of the bartending shift. We trudge out into the season's first snow. The air is heavy with the aura of democracy and the smell of cheap booze, a lingering reminder that while favored candidates may not emerge victorious, there's no excuse not to party as if they did.

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