Somehow, Judy Crane found a quiet spot amid the happy bedlam and sat down for a minute to compose herself. With the hem of her pink and white maternity dress, she wiped the tears from her glasses.
It was one thing to cry in front of her friends - most of the other women at the party were crying, too, from the sheer joy of it all. But now Gene and Sally Stunkel had come to see Judy and her husband, Dan. For the Stunkels, Judy would show no tears.
Not that the Stunkels would have noticed. For when Gene and Sally walked slowly into the Dan Crane victory party here late Tuesday night, they, too, were crying - but not with joy.
Stunkel, the hard-charging businessman who had set out 10 months ago to win a seat in Congress. Stunkel, who had told everybody that he was sure to win. Stunkel, who had spent $100,000 of his own money to make certain he did.
Stunkel had been trounced. He had come to Cranes party to concede defeat.
In a result that surprised nearly every one here in Illinois' 22nd Congressional District, Dan Crane, the Danville dentist and darling of the local Reganite bloc, had won big in the Republican congressional primary. Crane had run up a solid victory over Roscoe Cunningham, the state legislator who had the backing of most GOP leaders here. Stunkel had come in a dismal third.
In the campaign for the Nov. 7 election, Crane will face Terry Bruce, a likeable politically moderate state senator who coasted to a surprisingly easy victory in a four-way race for the Democratic nomination.
There had been some flashes of [WORD ILLEGIBLE] but Stunkel had thought all along itwould be he who would face Terry Bruce in November.
Some, in fact, had worked out an [WORD ILLEGIBLE] fantasy of the scene on primary night when Crane would come to be Stunkel victory dinner to concede to Gene's victory. To make that moment perfect, the Stunkels had even laid in champagne to toast Crane's sportsmanship.
That fond dream turned to dust minutes after Gene and Sally arrived at their headquarters Tuesday evening. A somber aide brought the early results from Douglas County, where Crane was winning heavily in the best Stunkel precincts. Gene's broad shoulders slumped. "Ol' Stunk's getting his butt beat," he sighed.
"We sure could have found some more fun ways to use that hundred thou," Sally said. "It hurts, you know, deep down."
What hurt was not just the shattered hope of victory. It was the sense of rejection that caused the real pain. The Stunkels were too thin-skinned for politicians: every vote for the opponent was a personal slap in Gene's face. "I can't believe that many people hate us," Stunkel said.
By 10:30 p.m., the game was clearly up. "Get your coat, Sal," Stunkel choked. "Let's get over there and congratulate the winner." Halfway out the door, he remembered the old fantasy, and went back for the champagne.
At the real victory party, Dan and Judy Crane were nearly as surprised as the Stunkels. Each new posting of voting totals brought happy whoops of disbelief from the crowd. "Can you believe that?" Judy kept shouting.
At the center of a knot of reporters, Dan Crane was explaining with characteristic intensity how he had won. "We made a lot of that Reagan image, the conservatism," he said. "Basically, people are sick of federal bureaucrats boondoggling with their tax money." Crane explained, too, that the primary proves that mass mailings - the Crane campaign's chief tool - were more effective than the media advertisements Stunkel bought in profusion or Cunnningham's reliance on the party organization.
"The fact of the matter is, Gene and Roscoe didn't . . ."
"Honey, Gene's come to concede," Judy interrupted, and there he was, coming to the front of the room while Sally sobbed quietly near the door.
"I'll tell you one thing," Stunkel shouted. "Dan Crane's going to Congress from this district in November." It was precisely the right touch, of course, for the Crane supporters, and they gave Stunkel a mighty cheer.
Buoyed by that, he went on to offer the ultimate Stunkel tribute. "And I'm telling you right now . . . I'm gonna give Dan a thousand dollars for his campaign."
In his law office in Lawrenceville a hundred miles to the South, Cunningham was not yet ready to concede.
But his jaunty demeanor had wilted with the early returns, and even the famous Cunningham wit seemed to fail as he talked to solicitious callers from the state and national Republican parties.
"Those Reagon people are all fanatics," Cunningham growled. "They always sick together - and they left Stunkel and me to split the rest."
Reformers, too, had done him in, he moaned. "The do-gooders . . have destroyed patronage and without patronage there is no party."
It was nearly midnight when Cunningham gave up. He placed a call to Crane, but could not garner any of the exotic oratory that had been his political trademark.
"Doctor, I wish you well," Roscoe said sadly, and for him the election campaign was over.
The Republican Party organization was not the only one that failed here Tuesday. Don Watson knew that was true with the first batch of Democratic returns after the polls closed.
Watson is the brother-in-law of Rep. George Shipley, the 22nd's retiring Democratic congressman, and through the connection Watson had won the support of nearly all the 22nd's Democratic county chairmen.
But while Watson was pursuing the party leadership, Terry Bruce carried on an energetic courtship of the Democratic rank and file. Watson had admired the effort but he thought Bruce would never counter the importance of the chairmen.
Early on election night Watson sat down calmly in a small office in his home town of Olney with a bottle of Coke, two packs of Vantage, and an adding machine. The earliest returns seemed promising, but by 10:15, the adding machine tape told that the hadn't made it.
Down the street in his office above Olney's five and dime, Terry Bruce was all cool confidence as he popped the pop corn and served the beer to his happy troop of youthful campaign workers.
Terry had put in 14 hours of election day campaigning and the fatigue blended with his growing assurance of victory to give him a sweet sense of tranquility.
But there was "something to think about" in those Republican returns, Terry said. "Crane is winning big - big, big, big. That's got to make you pause."
By noon yesterday when the last votes were counted, Bruce had snared 17,873 votes to Watson's 12,537. Dave Hill, a young Democrat in his maiden stab at politics, got 1,786 Democratic votes.Timothy Thut (pronounced "Toot,"), the campaign's only liberal, found 2,177 Democrats in the 22nd who agreed with his support of the Equal Rights Amendment and the Panama Canal treaties.
The Republican totals showed Crane with 15,735 votes to Cunningham's 12,195 and Stunkel's 6,175. By last night, the losers were off on vacation and the winners were back at work. The primary was one thing, but now the race for Congress in the 22nd District would get serious.
NEXT: "Here we go Again"