Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A Primer on Election Watch Parties

Free food. Sometimes free drinks. Drama. Opinionated people with something in common. Strange people. Celebrities. TV cameras and print reporters.

Election Watch Parties are a fascinating niche in the party-going world. They represent the best that the political world has to offer - launch parties are universally earnest and strident. Fundraisers are either brazen or coy, but always measured by the bottom line. But Election Watch Parties are something special.

Who can resist a party with the inherent drama and tension of election results? Even in "sure-thing" elections, there's always that edgy worry that the sneaky opposition pulled off a miracle. Until the votes are counted, anything can happen. Remember Florida?

If you're not an experienced election watch party attendee, the risk hovering over the party probably sounds like a damper. The thought of being present when the star of the party gets demolished by public opinion probably sounds awkward and awful. Kind of like waiting in the church with a bride for a groom that never shows.

Oddly enough, losing parties aren't all that painful. The losing candidate usually (but not always!) tries to keep a shred of dignity, and the true believers struggle to put on a brave front. Alright, I'll admit that you have to be a bit of a hard-hearted ass to enjoy a losing watch party, but I'm blessed with the ability to appreciate a fine train wreck.

Winning parties are almost always a lot more fun, and, if you happen to be a true believer (as I often am), they can seem like Cinderella's ball without a curfew. There is a many-faceted joy in the room - the affirmation of the voters, the "told-you-so" glee of the activists, and the barely-suppressible "You like me, you really like me" exhilaration of the candidate and close insiders. I've never been to a watch party as a single person, but I imagine they are full of opportunity, if you like the political types.

Which brings me to the cast of characters at an election watch party. First off, the candidate (or, in non-local races, his or her proxy) may be the center of attention, but it's not the time to schmooze him or her. S/he will shake hundreds of hands that night, and you will only be part of the crowd. If, for whatever fine or nefarious reason, you want a politician to be your friend, establish that relationship during the campaign by hosting a couple fundraisers or doing a lit drop. The election watch party is too late.

Spend your time watching the other characters. There will be at least a couple, and probably a team, of Very Serious People furiously seeking the latest shred of data. They wear concerned looks the entire night, and their biggest thrill is handing folded pieces of paper to the candidate or other VIPs. They will not be drinking, for fear of transposition errors.

The political insiders are fun to watch, too. They are there to see and be seen. They will probably be wearing navy and red, and have a firm handshake. If you are a kind soul, get a quizzical look on your face when they introduce themselves, and say, "Haven't I heard that name before?". They will explode with false modesty and rattle through a list of committees and boards, glowing with excitement that you've heard of them. "Haven't I heard that name before?" at a political event is the equivalent of "Have you been working out lately?" at a singles bar. Use it often and spread shallow self-esteem.

By far the most fun people are the volunteers. Look for the poorly dressed (they were working the polls), the bad hair (ballcaps), the ones with their emotions on their sleeves. They aren't part of the crowd of sophisticated "insiders" - they are the people who really got out and worked. There are always a lot of first-timers in this group, and they got there because they knew the candidate in high school, or they're related, or they met him or her at a coffee shop and were impressed. Just walk up to them and ask how they know the candidate, and they will blossom with enthusiasm. These are the people you want to have a beer with.

Finally, there are the celebrities who show up late. But usually only to successful parties. They are the least exciting and the least welcome. If you happen to have one brush by you, use their first name when you shake their hand, and say "Hi, _________, good to see you again, it's been a little while." That phrase will trigger their mental rolodex, and they will try to figure out who you are. It's a minor form of psychological terrorism.

One last word of advice. I used to be shy about attending them. "Sure, I spent hours stuffing envelopes and phone banking and waxing the candidate's car to a sparkly shine, but am I really welcome at the Election Watch Party?" These parties are wide open for crashing. If you hear where one is, don't hesitate to eat the food and see if the drinks are free. Nobody is going to risk offending a donor or a volunteer, so walk in like you own the place. See you in August. I'll be the one in navy and red.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope you don't mind, but we printed this and will have it framed. You NAILED it.

4/09/2008 8:51 AM  
Blogger KC Sponge said...

Here's to crashing more parties - especially the ones with an open bar!

4/09/2008 9:51 AM  
Blogger Kanga said...

Gotta disagree with you, Dan. I hate watch parties. I'm usually at them because I worked my ass off for a candidate, and so far, I have only been to one winner, and even then I went home before the final victory because the numbers did not come in until the next morning.

So I pretty much hate election nights. Hope this year is different!

4/09/2008 10:40 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

Do red pants count as a sufficiently insiderish? I hope so.

4/09/2008 11:18 AM  
Anonymous Lance said...

Very entertaining. As a political neophyte, I've never attended one of these. I'll be sure to review this before my first.

4/09/2008 2:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dan if you are going to give the mayor a blow job please do it in the parking lot like a the good whore that you are.

You and that Bimbo you were with looked like anything royalty when you sat with Funkhouser laughing, drinking and noshing at the Blue Room. You were hardly crashing the party. My husband and I were laughing at your little table from across the room. Fuck stick.

4/10/2008 10:34 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

It's amusing to think that someone who thinks that chatting with the Mayor is equivalent to blowing him also thinks that KC Sponge, one of the brightest young activists in the city, is a bimbo.

I'm also impressed that you managed to inject sexuality issues into my relations with both of them. Freud would love you.

4/11/2008 6:19 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

Anonymous - thank you, though, for showing that I lived up to my own advice. I wrote "walk in like you own the place" and you say I looked "like anything royalty" and I was "hardly crashing the party". Check the guest list, and you'll see that I was living my advice.

4/11/2008 6:25 AM  

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