It was after 10 p.m. that a woman wearing a blue dress and a donkey mask came up to us and put her snout, through which her eyes were visible, up against our face -- so we were peering at each other through a tunnel of plastic hot with her breath. "Our ovaries are safe for four more fuckin' years!" she said, and then danced off.
In a crass way, that summed up the late-night mood at last night's Denver Democratic watch party at the downtown Sheraton hotel.
The beginning of the night was much more tame. We arrived just before the stated start-time of 7 p.m. to find a ballroom mostly empty save for the press. A few people were milling about, including Denver electrician Tom Tyler, who was enjoying a Blue Moon bought with the required drink tickets.
"I'm 52 and I feel this election is the most critical election for this country in my voting lifetime," Tyler told us. "There are such radically different views of how to take this nation forward." Today, Tyler ascribes to the Democratic one, but he didn't always. Disappointed by Bill Clinton's stance on NAFTA, Tyler says he drifted right for several years -- but the possibility of a second George W. Bush term yanked him left again.
Sitting at a small banquet table, Tyler pointed at the two giant screens flanking the stage at the front of the room. Mitt Romney was on TV. "If that man right there wins -- if the red states pull this through -- we'll see nothing but heartburn, heartache," he said.
Tyler was soon joined by a woman named Angeles Ortega, who'd spent the last several hours monitoring the polls at Manual High School with Just Vote Colorado. (No problems, she reported.) He fetched her a red wine and the two watched the screens.
"Wow, that's amazing!" Tyler said at 7:15 p.m. "Two hundred votes apart in Florida!"
"It's going to be an early night!" Ortega said. They clinked their glasses in a toast.
Standing spitting distance from one of the screens was Fred Conseen and his wife, Karin. The two wore matching gray Obama sweatshirts and matching grins.
"I am here to see this man reelected!" Conseen said, as '80s music played over the speakers.
He'd spent the past two months volunteering for Obama, offering his Denver house as a staging area for canvassing. "The national disaster we've had -- I'm sorry it had to come down to this, but it's knocking it out of the park for him," said Conseen, 45, who never voted in an election until Bush ran for his second term. (He cast his ballot for the other guy.) "I didn't think my vote counted for much," Conseen explained. "But when I realized the United States could start a war -- we could start a war -- for no good reason, I got into politics."
Continue for more on the Dems watch party. By 8 p.m., the ballroom was filling up. In one corner, an artist drew caricatures. Tomas Padilla and Marco Struck commissioned one of themselves as a two-headed donkey.
"If we have Romney as president, all of us are going to suffer," Padilla said. "Obama has a better plan for the middle class."
Struck said that while the economy hasn't recovered as quickly as some had hoped, "it doesn't happen overnight.... It's going to take time" -- and he said Obama is the man to do it.
Across the ballroom, Trent Wilkerson enjoyed a beer and the returns that were slowly trickling in on CNN. Top 40 hits (Santana, Maroon 5) played over the sound system -- but whenever Wolf Blitzer called another state, either for Obama or Romney, party organizers cut the music and played the CNN audio. There were big cheers when New Hampshire and Pennsylvania went for Obama. "That's game over!" one supporter shouted.
Wilkerson watched with a stuffed donkey wrapped around his neck. It looked like a lovable, dopey-eyed Democratic scarf. The donkey, he explained, was named Bill -- as in Clinton. "I love the man," Wilkerson said.
"This is one of the most important elections of my lifetime," Wilkerson said. A mental health worker, he said he favors Democrats because of their support for social services.
"This election is personal," he added, "because as a gay man, Obama is a supporter of marriage equality." When he pulled out his cell phone to check on something, his background photo was the Shepard Fairey HOPE poster.
Kat Lovato was also dressed up for the occasion, donning a sparkly headband with two blinking silver stars sprouting from the top like spring-loaded antlers. "I've been through every presidency since Truman," said the 61-year-old Lovato, "and I've never been so excited." Obama, she said, "truly needed four more years to change the social environment." Lovato is concerned about access to education, women's rights and mental health care. She has an adopted son with schizophrenia.
Mid-explanation, Lovato was distracted by CNN. "Oh my gosh!" she shouted. "Look at that map!" While the middle of the country remained red, the edges were turning blue. She bounced up and down, and the stars on her headband bounced with her.
Continue for more on the party. It gets rowdier. Soon, the officials took the stage. Colorado Democratic Party chairman Rick Palacio started things off. "We are on the path to victory!" he proclaimed a little after 9 p.m.
A few minutes later, CNN called the race for Obama. The room exploded with cheers. "Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!" shrieked sixteen-year-old Quintasia Wake in the kind of giddy, high-pitched tone of voice that only teenage girls are capable of emitting.
"Well, uh, I was hoping we'd all be sitting on the edges of our seats a little longer," said Palacio, returning to the microphone. When the screams died down, he introduced nine-year-old Dejion Allen to lead the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance. Wearing a striped dress shirt and a bow tie, Allen stepped on a milk crate to reach the microphone.
Afterward, we asked Allen why the night was special. "Because I get to be on the news!" he said. Then he added, "I've been in catalogs before. I'm also a model."
A parade of elected officials, past and present, took turns at the microphone next. Many called for bipartisanship in the wake of the victorious election. Party-goers clapped.
Former Dever mayor Federico Pena: "When people look across the West and they see the new Colorado and they see the new Democratic party, they see the future of our country!"
Current mayor Michael Hancock: "It is now time to unite this nation!"
Representative Diana DeGette, who won a ninth term in Congress last night, spoke of moving Colorado from purple to blue, and Governor John Hickenlooper reminded the crowd that "this is one country." He then introduced state House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, noting that he'd soon be speaker, since Dems won control of the House. Ferrandino thanked supporters and promised to make them proud.
When the speeches ended, the dance music began. Adults got down to the Black Eyed Peas, Outkast, "Tainted Love" and "Gangnam Style." "What did I tell you?" Tyler, the electrician who showed up at the party early, shouted at us, mid-boogie. "We're on the road to recovery now! We won't have to live in a parallel universe!"
Continue for more on the party. It was around that time that the donkey-mask lady (or was it a horse mask?) pushed her snout into our snout. While she and other party-goers danced, still others sat down and waited for Obama's victory speech. A few couples snuck in quick makeout sessions.
As Obama walked on stage (on TV), the Dems sang along to his entrance song: "Signed, sealed, delivered -- I'm yours!" They watched him speak, enraptured. His lines about Michelle and Joe Biden, about field organizers, the military and immigrants earned cheers, whistles and applause. At the end, their cheers drowned out the President.
Rodney Williams, 49, was at the very front of the crowd. His face was plastered with a wide grin and illuminated in the glow. When the speech was over, we approached him to ask how he was feeling. But before we could say anything, he enveloped us in a rib-crushing hug. He held us so tight, we could feel his heart beating beneath his Obama T-shirt.
"This is about a man who loves his country," he said. "He deserves to be where he is."
By 12:15 a.m., Obama's speech was over, but the Dems weren't done. Several stuck around, dancing with abandon to "Love Shack" like the world's most elated wedding guests. Mischa Martinez danced with a cross-eyed Romney mask on a stick. A Gene Simmons tongue had been glued to Mitt's mouth and a sign stapled to the side of his head said, "No more Romnesia. Thanks, Barack." "I left it in the car just in case," Martinez explained; when it looked like Obama would win, "I figured I'd better go get it."
For photos from the Dems party, the GOP party and the party to celebrate the passage of pro-pot Amendment 64, check out our Election Night in Denver slideshow.Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at email@example.com
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