Reality Suspended, Until It Prevailed

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank and's Akira Hakuta sketch election night with John McCain in Phoenix, Arizona. Video by Akira Hakuta/
Wednesday, November 5, 2008

PHOENIX, Nov. 4 "We never hide from history," John McCain told his dejected supporters Tuesday night.

But for a few hours, they sure did try.

As the election returns pointed to an overwhelming victory for Barack Obama, those at McCain's election-night headquarters in the Biltmore hotel ballroom here engaged in a mass exercise in denial. For most of the night, organizers hid the news broadcasts from supporters in the ballroom, instead entertaining them with country music. Every few minutes, the master of ceremonies, former Louisiana governor Buddy Roemer, came to the microphone to announce another triumph for McCain.

"We've got two additional states, and we can add them to our column, West Virginia and South Carolina," Roemer crowed. They cheered.

At 9:10 p.m. Eastern time -- after the crucial state of Pennsylvania had been called for Obama -- Roemer returned. "I have two additional states officially in the McCain column -- North Dakota and Wyoming!" he exulted. They waved red pompons.

On cable news, the electoral-vote tally stood at 163 to 81 in Obama's favor, but those in the ballroom didn't see that. The McCain campaign put up its own tally, showing McCain leading, 69 to 59.

By 9:45, Ohio had fallen to Obama, and the election was, essentially, over. Roemer returned to the microphone. "We have another state in the John McCain category," he announced. "It's the great state of Louisiana!"

Even when McCain delivered his concession speech on the Biltmore lawn just after 11 p.m., the denial lingered. "I had the honor of calling Senator Barack Obama to congratulate him," McCain said.

The audience responded with boos, obscenities and shouts of "No!"

"Please," McCain upbraided his supporters.

McCain spoke of the need "to bridge our differences."

The crowd answered with shouts of "No!" and "No way!"

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