This is not just about Democrats. It's about a Washington phenomenon, a leaden sensation that strikes the city like a quadrennial morning-after-Christmas.
"This is like the city of the walking dead," says Isaiah Zimmerman, a Washington therapist.
Anxiety and indolence so debilitating that you feel as if you've awakened with a refrigerator sitting on your chest.
"What I think the root of it is -- half seriously -- is the fact that the campaign ends with a sudden finale," says Thomas Oliphant, a Boston Globe reporter who covered Walter Mondale for two years. "Your mind is still in the four-cities-a-day mode . . . And then you come to work and move papers from the left side of your desk to the right side of your desk. That's what I did today, as a matter of fact, only I was moving from right to left."
It's definitely the mood of the losers, many of whom have fled town. At Mondale-Ferraro headquarters, someone dejectedly informs callers that the office is being "dismantled and no one has left a forwarding number."
It's also a feeling not escaped by the middlemen, the hundreds of journalists who wake up on the Wednesday after, in their own bed, and think they've missed the 5 a.m. cattle call for Des Moines.
And, not least of all, it's what winning is getting to be all about these days, too.
Jody Powell, who as press secretary to Jimmy Carter experienced the win and the loss of a campaign, thinks the win can be harder on the psyche.
"Your adrenaline stops pumping," says Powell. "Even though there are things to be done after you win, it's hard to get back in the trenches. In some ways it was almost easier in '80 because we knew very specifically what we had to do to close shop."
"It's awful," says Roger Stone, Reagan-Bush Northeast coordinator. "You just don't know what to do with yourself. I've been catching up on long lunches."
"We're all passing the cyanide around here," says Craig Shirley, spokesman for the National Conservative Political Action Committee, who is having a party on Saturday night called "Thank God the whole damn thing is over." "Now we have to find a reason to justify our existence. Yesterday, we were so bored over here that we had an intense spitball war between communications and direct mail."
Quipped Democratic consultant Robert Squier: "If we'd elected some of the trash they have elected to public office, I'd be depressed too. If you send Jesse Helms back to the Senate, you're bound to feel like Scrooge at Christmas . . . I feel fine. It's weekends that are a big change. I can actually go to a movie."
For the past two years, campaign aides, consultants and the journalists who cover them have been transported on an endless conveyor belt, a life of cold danish breakfasts and airline food lunches, of rising in the dark and forgetting where they slept the night before.
And then the center of their career universe collapses. The colleagues who have become their only family for months are gone, their family, who have become strangers, are once again at their dinner table.
Those who would rather not call it "depression" use more upbeat terms. The journalists jokingly call it "pack withdrawal," while campaign staffers refer to it as decompression. "I'm just dazed," says Time correspondent Sam Allis. "It's not depression. My mind is such that I spend my time watching Road Runner cartoons with my 19-month-old daughter."
Washington therapists concur that something in the air here does indeed change.
"Anyone who is close to the center of the campaign is faced with an abrupt stop," says Zimmerman. "For the losers, they are pushing until the last minute, only to find it didn't work. They go kind of numb, get spacey. There is also a desire to scramble to go onto what's next, but their heart is not in it."
Zimmerman confirms that the winners feel just as disoriented. "The winners feel depressed because the campaign is such a turn-on," he says. "It's the equivalent of war. They are experiencing an intense, terrific team spirit and it's all dismantled very quickly."
Dr. Stephen M. Sonnenberg, scholar-in-residence at the Washington School of Psychiatry, takes a more practical approach.
"One of the reasons for the despondency in this specific election may be in the fact that the results seem to be ambiguous," he says. "The Democrats certainly don't feel like they have gotten their message through. And the Republicans don't feel like they totally won because they did not gain much in the Congress. That could lead to a certain uneasiness on both sides."
It must be noted, of course, that not everybody is depressed.
"Quite the contrary -- I enjoyed the campaign," said Lee Atwater, Reagan-Bush deputy campaign manager. "The only thing I enjoyed more is the ending of the campaign. Of course, you miss it. If you have a slightly bad headache for four or five years and all of a sudden it leaves you, you miss it from the standpoint of it not being there. I'm pretty philosophical about the ending of a campaign. I've been doing this since 1970, so this is my eighth ending of a campaign."
His advice to others who are having withdrawal pains:
"Make a list of the 10 worst days in the campaign and remember how miserable you were. That'll cure you straight away."