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Kyle Hansen

Party faithful gather to celebrate, bemoan wins and losses

5 November 2008

, Kyle Hansen

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Party faithful turned out in droves Tuesday night to watch election results with their kindred. For Nevada Democrats, who celebrated at the Rio, the night spiraled into a festive party. Over at the Palazzo, however, Republicans commiserated in their defeat in key local and national races.

For the GOP, the two zingers of the night were the victories of Barack Obama and Dina Titus. While Jill Derby's defeat by Dean Heller stung, and no one rejoiced when it was learned that Melissa Woodbury had defeated Allison Herr, Nevada Democrats had a myriad of reasons to celebrate Tuesday night.

About an hour into the state Dems' election night celebration, a worker warned the crowd that if anyone left the Brasilia Ballroom, he or she might not be allowed back in because the 1,500-person capacity had already been exceeded.

Wild cheers interrupted an announcement when a TV screen flashed the big news of the evening: Barack Obama was the projected winner of the presidential election.

The crowded room continued to swell as the energy level in the room escalated.

"I've seen a lot of people weeping," said Susanna Schell, a volunteer with the Obama campaign who came to Las Vegas from San Francisco.

"A lot of people in this room have been volunteering, working for the last 12 hours," she said. "A lot of people here have been working really hard and now it's time to celebrate."

Linda Penn, a southeast Las Vegas resident, was one of those visibly moved while watching the televised coverage of Obama's speech.

"I'm so excited I can't stand it," she said. "I'm thrilled to take a part in it. We almost missed it because we were out working." Penn said she and her husband were knocking on doors until 5:30 p.m., urging people to get out and vote.

"We didn't expect the results so early," she said.

Linda's son, Derek, laughed as he teased his mom about her "obsession" with Obama.

"She loves Obama more than her own son," he said.

She smiled, but didn't deny it.

"I told my husband that tonight he takes second place to Barack," she added.

Despite the Democrats' sweeping success in local races, the focus of the evening was on Obama and the presidential campaign.

"It's been wonderful watching the results coming in," said Henderson resident Aaron Ford, who is a member of the Clark County Democratic Party executive board.

Ford had his three sons and a nephew with him to watch the results of a historic election.

Pointing to Obama on the TV screen, he said, "I want my kids to look up and see that they were born into a country that is better than the country that I was born into."

Ford was just one of a number of the party-goers who came with children and teens in-tow.

"I brought my children. It just shows (them) that you can do whatever you want to do. In America, you can be whatever you want to be," said Summerlin resident Latosha Perry. "I like the melting pot of America that I see here. It's so great. I feel like I'm attending a wedding, it's so exhilarating."

The party drew people from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Sharon Coats, of Southern Highlands, sported a blue shirt that boldly proclaimed, "Another old white woman for Obama." She said her sister, who lives in Virginia, had made several shirts for them to sport in their respective swing states.

"I think that if it was up to us Nevadans, we would still be in a red state," Coats said. A volunteer for the Obama campaign, she and her husband opened their home in the final weeks of the campaign to out-of-state volunteers. She said that those who came to the Silver State from elsewhere were an important part of the Democrats' success.

While the celebration at the Rio it was an all-out bash, the Republicans marked a more somber evening. Hoping for the best, Republican candidates and their families took over the Sportsbook Bar and Grill at the Palazzo for a formal dinner and watch party, but most went home disappointed.

Incumbent Rep. Jon Porter and Clark County Commissioner candidate Brian Scroggins made appearances before ducking out to watch results in a private screening room. State Sen. Joe Heck stood nervously by his family as he anxiously watched the returns.

The mood quickly changed from hopeful to gloomy as newscasters announced McCain's defeat.

Supporters slowly filed out of the party after the announcement, leaving only faithful local Republicans awaiting the final word.

"I'm very disappointed to see John McCain and Sarah Palin were not elected," Las Vegas resident Shmuel Oppenheim said.

Oppenheim, the rabbi at a messianic synagogue in Las Vegas, said he felt the McCain-Palin ticket shared many of his values, with the issue of abortion being at the forefront.

"I hope that we will have someone in the future who will stick to conservative principles," Oppenheim said.

Out-of-state Republicans from Arizona, California and Utah who traveled to Nevada to help with the last-minute campaign push joined local supporters at the Palazzo Tuesday night.

David Hunsaker and his sister, Katie Hunsaker, traveled with the Brigham Young University Campus Republicans from Provo to help get out the vote. The group arrived in Clark County on Friday.

"We can't believe that Americans can be so blind as to chose socialism when that's what our founding fathers fought against," Katie Hunsaker said after Obama's victory was announced.

"We're disappointed but we still believe in America. Even though Obama won the electoral vote by a landslide, I'm encouraged by the popular vote," David Hunsaker said.

While many Republicans seemed discouraged by the Democratic sweep both nationally and locally, Michael Ramirez of Las Vegas remained hopeful.

"For the most part, I think this is a time when we can come together as a party and say, 'Let's move forward.' I think in the grand scheme of things, it's a positive. I really do," Ramirez said.

Ramirez said he feels this time of transition should be a time when Republicans regroup and welcome back party members who might have strayed.

Though the night didn't turn out as Republicans had hoped, Ramirez said he is confident the party will bounce back.

"Initially, people felt defeated. But we are an active party. It is our obligation to represent the people whose voice is unheard in the new administration," Ramirez said. "He is the president-elect and as Americans, we will stand by our president … But, we will act as checks-and-balances."