Night of the Short Knives
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."
11:46 p.m.: Fourth CD candidate Obi Sium, a native of Eritrea, offers his concession speech: "I am not bitter. I am happy. I'm happy for people who got money from the Republican Party. I didn't and that's fine. I'm not bitter, I'm happy. God Bless America."
12:21 a.m.: A huge ovation breaks out when it's announced that Pawlenty has opened up a 19,000-vote lead with 80 percent of the state's precincts reporting.
12:37 a.m.: Chairman Carey takes the podium. "I have an announcement concerning former State Sen. Dean Johnson," he says, with relish. "Bye-bye, Dean."
pA GOP partisan, frustrated by slow late-night returns from St. Louis County, says to no one in particular: "What are they? A bunch of Iron Range hicks?"
1:33 a.m.: The first of many "T-Paw" chants waft through the ballroom, courtesy of some very drunk young Republicans.
1:36 a.m.: Mary Kiffmeyer, finally accepting that there will be no divine intervention in the secretary of state's race, cries as she concedes.
1:45 a.m: KARE 11's John Croman informs the crowd gathered around his platform that the AP has just called the governor's race for Pawlenty. A crowd of young Republicans jumps up and down waving red Pawlenty signs, alternately chanting "T-Paw, T-Paw" and "Four more years." They then scurry from camera to camera, trying to hit every television backdrop.
1:58 a.m.: KSTP goes live to Brad Satin, who is standing in a middle of an empty DFL ballroom in St. Paul. The jeers turn to cheers at the Sheraton, when some 300 die-hards realize KSTP is now showing live images of their party.
2:03 a.m.: A smattering of boos ripples through the dwindling ranks of the faithful when the face of House speaker-in-waiting Nancy Pelosi appears on Fox News.
2:04 a.m.: To kill time, a "true American hero" is ushered to the podium. He is Joe Repya, veteran of the Vietnam, Gulf, and Iraq wars, and the instigator of the "Support the Troops" lawn sign movement. In between abortive efforts at leading the crowd in the "Four more years," chant, Repya starts picking on Jesse Ventura. First, he claims that Pawlenty cleaned up the budget mess that Ventura left behind. Then he praises Pawlenty's lieutenant governor, Carol Molnau. "She once beat Jesse Ventura in a keg-throwing contest," he barks. "She could probably throw a hand grenade twice as far!" He is soon escorted off the stage.
2:10 a.m.: Ron Carey insists that Pawlenty will be speaking in 15 minutes. "Party all night because this is something to be excited about," he tells the crowd.
2:52 a.m.: Carey confirms that the delay is due to Hatch's unwillingness to concede the race. "He's not answering his phone," Carey says gleefully. "We hear he's going to make an announcement at nine o'clock tomorrow morning."
2:37 a.m.: A young Republican counsels an elder comrade on protocol for hooking up on election night. "Give it up, dude," he tells him, sipping from a can of Coors beer. "She's a college Republican. I'm a college Republican. You're like 50."
2:40 a.m.: A GOP partygoer is overheard explaining to a friend that the delay in Governor Pawlenty's appearance is due in part to the disappearance of Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau, who has finally been located sleeping in a hotel room.
2:53 a.m.: Pawlenty finally hits the stage, accompanied by chants of "E85, E85." "I'm going to ask for your help," the governor says. "It's a time to be humble. It's a time to be grateful. And it's a time for our nation and our state to come together." He concedes that "the country is divided" and that "we need to come together and we need to do our part by starting that here tonight.... The next four years is going to be different than the last four years. We got different leadership in Congress. We got different leadership in St. Paul. There are big challenges ahead of us."
He then offers a "shout-out" to "my red-hot smokin' wife," before reading a Bible verse and concluding, "God has blessed me. Amen."
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