Night of the Short Knives

As the GOP suffered the death of a thousand cuts last Tuesday, CP staffers captured scenes from the victory party that (mostly) wasn't

By Paul Demko and G.R. Anderson Jr.

GOP election party, Grand Ballroom, second floor, Sheraton Bloomington

7:37 p.m.: The Fox News results are rolling in on a big screen in the corner, with virtually every race coming up donkey, big-time. Two middle-aged women in matching red sweaters are drinking glasses of white wine. "I guess it's all those people voting," one tut-tuts to the other, "who want the country going to hell in a hand basket."

7:45 p.m.: Mark Kennedy is doing the appointed media rounds early and getting them out of the way, a sure sign he knows he's dead meat. KSTP-TV's Tom Hauser asks Kennedy how he's feeling, and the dead man walking replies, "I've had people telling me, 'I am a soldier, and thank you for supporting us.' It's that kind of energy I'm feeling.'"

7:58 p.m.: Kennedy scurries around to at least four more television and radio interviews. Soon enough, CNN is declaring Klobuchar the winner, and Kennedy is rushing out of the ballroom with his wife Debbie and an aide by his side. When approached by one final reporter, Kennedy gives his patented stop-time gaze from Fahrenheit 9/11 before concluding: "City Pages? I don't know that I have a thing to say to City Pages." Then he's gone.

8:02 p.m.: Just as the polls close, a Dixieland band apparently called Jazz, Etc. begins playing at a distressing volume. The two massive TVs in each corner of the ballroom are momentarily switched from election coverage to Dancing with the Stars, perhaps an indication that the Republicans aren't looking forward to the results.

8:14 p.m.: Enthusiastic applause erupts when Democrat-turned-Independent Joe Lieberman is projected as the victor in the Connecticut Senate race. An attempt at a "Bye-Bye Lamont" chant goes nowhere.

8:26 p.m.: Very early results posted on an in-house monitor by KSTP show overwhelming DFL support for the Senate and state office races, including Hatch leading Pawlenty by 54,077 to 37,333. "Those are all inner-city results," one Grand Old Partier scoffs.

8:30 p.m.: Though the networks have already called the Klobuchar-Kennedy contest, former Sen. Rudy Boschwitz insists that the race is still up in the air. "They haven't counted any votes yet," he notes. "I think we should wait until they count the votes." Boschwitz also insists that there's not going to be a GOP bloodbath. "I think we'll hold our own in Minnesota. The only real question is whether we're going to lose the First District."

8:35 p.m.: In the Navigators bar on the hotel's ground floor, a group of five revelers expounds on race relations. "There's a difference," explains one of them. "It depends on what kind of blacks you're talking about. There's the light-skinned blacks and the dark-skinned blacks. And they're different. But you can't just say that."

8:47 p.m.: A twentysomething guy is wearing a black T-shirt that reads, "Liberalism is a mental disorder."

8:55 p.m.: Enthusiastic applause greets the announcement that purported closet-case Charlie Crist has won the Florida governor's race.

9:09 p.m.: GOP Chair Ron Carey keeps up a brave face. "Let's get ready to party," he tells the faithful, "because this is going to be a great night for Republicans."

9:51 p.m.: A small cheer erupts when KSTP shows Michele Bachmann leading in the Sixth District Congressional race with 49 percent to Patty Wetterling's 43 percent and John Binkowski's 8 percent.

9:57 p.m.: U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman takes the stage with his seldom-seen wife, Laurie. "Obviously, the results for Mark Kennedy are disappointing," he intones in his best Mayor Quimby. "He is a magnificent human being." After urging the crowd to be patient, he declares, "When all is said and done, Tim Pawlenty will be elected governor."

10:18 p.m.: Mark Kennedy returns for a concession speech: "Winston Churchill said success is never permanent," he informs the crowd. "Failure is never fatal. The only thing that really counts is courage." This is followed by lots of talk about Islamic jihadists. He then shakes hands with his family members, including his daughters and his mother.

10:27 p.m.: Rep. John Kline, politically impervious to the national backlash against the Iraq war, hits the stage to "Yankee Doodle Dandy." No mention is made of the inept campaign mounted by challenger Coleen Rowley. "We've got a little bit more work to do tonight," he tells the crowd. "We've got a little bit more praying. We've got to do a little bit more pulling. We've got some pretty close races still out there that we need to get across the finish line.... We need to keep pulling for my friend Gil Gutknecht in the First District. He's gonna be fine."

11:25 p.m.: Jeff Johnson and Pat Anderson are next to the podium. "It's been a tough night for us Republicans," Anderson concedes. "We've had a very tough night.... But this is not the end of it. This is just a battle in the war. We are gonna win the war over the long run.... We're going to be back. I can tell you I'm gonna be back. You've not seen the end of Pat Anderson."

11:42 p.m.: Michele Bachmann, resplendent in pearls and slinky black dress, is the night's rock star. She rushes nonstop from microphone to television camera to newspaper reporter. Adoring fans beg to have their photo taken with her. In an interview with St. Cloud talk radio host Dan "The Ox" Ochsner of KNSI (AM 1450), she lays out her agenda for Congress. "Number one, I'm gonna cut taxes," Bachmann says. "That's the first thing we're gonna do. We're gonna cut taxes. We're gonna keep the country safe from radical jihadists. We're gonna build more roads."

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