California election results: Concessions appear more uncertain than election outcome

The Washington Post takes a look back at some of the more memorable moments from the 2010 campaigns.
By Jason Horowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 3, 2010; 3:38 AM

LOS ANGELES -- As soon as the polls closed here, several news organizations declared Democrat Jerry Brown as California's new governor and Democrat Barbara Boxer its reelected senator. And yet they were among the last politicians in the country to receive concession calls from their opponents.

At 10 p.m. (1 a.m. ET Wednesday), former Republican governor Pete Wilson took the stage at the "victory" party of apparently defeated Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman and informed the crowd at the Hilton Universal hotel ballroom that an insufficient number of votes had been counted for Whitman to concede.

"I recall several long nights," Wilson said. "But you know something. Those nights ended the right way. I never lost. And I think that is what we are facing tonight." He said the secretary of state's computer had crashed.

Whitman's campaign, which spent $160 million on the race, $140 million of which was Whitman's own money, began frantically telling reporters that they were waiting for 75 percent of the votes to be counted. Then they said to forget the 75 percent figure, and concentrate on the fact that the secretary of state's Web site kept crashing.

According to Andrea Jones Rivera, a Whitman spokeswoman, the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, Fox News and other news organizations had all called the race for Brown based on "exit polling and incomplete data from the secretary of state's office."

A few minutes after the announcement that there would be no announcement, the jumbo screens in the ballroom showed a live feed from Boxer's party at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel and Spa, a few miles south down the Freeway. The crowd cheered as a reporter on the screen said Carly Fiorina, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, was refusing to call Boxer to concede the race because she, too, was waiting for more votes to be counted.

At 11 p.m., the emphatic emcee at the Whitman party called on the guests to come back into the ballroom. The crowd, feeling hopeful, returned and watched the Fiorina feed on the screens. The candidate appeared unbowed and joked, "California is always a little bit different."

Fiorina said only 36 percent of the vote had been counted, "and we are in a dead heat."

"It's going to be a long night," she said, adding, "For all those people who declared this race, maybe that was probably not a smart thing to do."

The crowd at the Whitman party roared with approval. The reporters in the press box looked unmoved. The news outlets weren't changing their projections.

The TV then cut to Boxer's party, where the senator took the stage and observed that "every single station and every single publication" had declared her the winner. When the senator noted that "we just pulled out to a several point lead, and that's before LA is in!" the crowd at the Whitman Party went silent. And when Boxer said that "I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for this victory," they all booed.

At 11:30, the emcee was back on stage in front of the cheering Whitman volunteers, urging the crowd to make some noise. The room darkened and a slick video of Whitman smiling and shaking hands to inspirational music played on the jumbotrons. The drama was building. The crowd felt that something big was going to happen. The lights went up. Whitman took the stage to sustained applause, beamed and then ... conceded.

"We have come up a little short," she said, anticlimactically, adding, "I gave it my all."

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