Correction to This Article
This article about election-night parties misidentified a John Mellencamp song played at a party in Charleston, W.Va., for Gov. Joe Manchin III, who was elected to the Senate. The song is called "Pink Houses," not "Ain't That America."

Election 2010: A walk on the mild side of victory (or defeat) parties

On Tuesday night, race results sent ballrooms across the country into happy tizzies or downward spirals.
By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 4, 2010

SEATTLE -- America the beautiful, the anxious, the tipsy. Land of the free chardonnay, home of the brave campaign staffer dancing alone, prematurely, as everyone else watches big-screen projections of Fox News and MSNBC, waiting to be told how to feel.

Polls close. Percentages tango. The country engages in its strangest pastime: the official election-night party.

Celebration or self-flagellation?

Too close to call.

Margin of error: plus or minus three Bud Lights.

No one does nervous anticipation, cautious optimism and polite lunacy better than the people who show up to these kinds of parties, which begin in the 7 o'clock hour as Election Day turns to Election Dusk, time zone by time zone.

The Democrats show up here, at the Westin hotel in downtown Seattle, and tell themselves they did all they could for Patty Murray, their incumbent and endangered senator. Then they order a $10 Seagram's and 7Up in case they didn't do enough. Tuesday evening the fourth-floor "grand ballroom" fills with tweed and tie-dye, elbow patches and men's scarfery, lady berets and union patches and brambly ponytails. And supporters who've already tranquilized their nerves with two dirty martinis.

Why come to an event like this, ma'am?

"I was having an affair with a politician who's probably in this room right now," says artist and Eastlake resident Michele Leal, brown eyes scanning the room. "Sometimes he'd bring cash and sometimes his credit card. And I was like, 'Is Washington state paying for this dinner?' "

She laughs, then pauses.

"But I like to learn from people, and there are people here I can learn from," she says eventually, sweeping her martini glass across the carpeted expanse, sloshing gin onto her shoes. "I need a sippy cup, I told Benjamin." She reels around to face a bow-tied bartender. "Benjamin! My sippy cup."

Let's teleport outta here. Come, party-hop across the continent. (There'll be some time travel, too.)

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