On this past Tuesday, November 7th, just about every living room in America was its own small war room. Phones rang, people screamed at the television, and moods soared and plummeted (it is an absolute certainty that every single person who cared about the election experienced, on that particular night, at least one gigantic mood swing). Off all these war rooms, however, only two were actually fighting the war. Here is a look at what was going on inside one of them.
My job on election day was to provide the War Room with the ability to forecast the election based on any number of scenarios. Basically, I sat in front of Microsoft Excel all night. I had created a spreadsheet with enough bells and whistles that it looked like the work of a pro, though any thirteen-year-old could have done the same. The scenarios we ran were based on the exit polling we were receiving from the field and from our contacts in the media.
For about a thirty minute stretch Tuesday night, I had us solidly in the win column, and for the first time really started to believe that everything we had done here was going to pay off.
When Tennessee was called for Bush, we had expected it, but it sucked the air out of the room. Florida being called back just flat out knocked the wind out of us. When I first heard the rumor that the networks were debating whether or not to pull Florida out of Gore’s column, I was very skeptical, but I ran it up the flagpole anyway as it came from someone that I knew would know what they were talking about. For 10 minutes, I was the village idiot as everyone said it was impossible, but then they started to hear from their media contacts that Florida was indeed a toss-up once again.
I’m not sure I had ever wanted to be so wrong.
From then on, the night sucked. Missouri called for Bush. When I was asked to figure out if we could win if Colorado or Arizona came in for us, I knew it was over. We needed a miracle.
It wasn’t until later when someone on CNN said, “Vice President Elect Richard Louis Cheney,” that the loss really hit me. I hate that guy.
At about 2:00 am I was in the pouring rain at the event site, preparing to listen to the Vice President concede, stunned and tumbling into a pretty dark emotional hole when my walkie talkie went off – this silly Motorola Talkabout that a dozen of us bought and had been wearing/playing with in preparation for the Carnival Cruise we were scheduled to take together starting tomorrow – saying that I was needed back at the office urgently. I thought it was a joke. We had lost. What was left? And I had just started to feel a little better as we all met up at the plaza. Just being with the people that I had fought alongside for what now seems like forever was a consolation. Little looks, hugs, pats on the back. We had lost, and the faces I was looking into were devastated ones, but at least we were all gravitating to the same place to be together and cry together.
Then the walkie talkie rang, and a few minutes later, in the car – jammed with seven of us, all on our Cell phones – I heard how close the count was in Florida, and I accepted that it was for real. I was on the phone with someone still at the event site when I heard a roar in the background – CBS had had pulled it’s call back. We were a campaign again.
The scene here was bedlam. We stood outside in the rain – for privacy – in a circle, being briefed by the campaign’s election law attorney and our Director of Research. There must have been about 15 people, and only three of us were not smoking like chimneys. I was hardly paying attention I was so lost in the moment. We worked until six, went home and showered, then came back by 8. The Palm Beach ballot issue was our immediate focus. It stood out like a sore thumb.
For six months I came to work knowing that no matter how draining and overwhelming this was that it would be over – for better or for worse – on 11/7.
It’s been 11/7 for five days now, and I don’t know a whole lot more than I did standing on the Tarmac of Nashville International Airport to welcome the Vice President back to Tennessee on Tuesday morning. In the few seconds that I had his full attention, I told him, “Sir, enjoy the last day of being addressed as Mr. Vice President, because tonight you’re getting a new title.”
He looked at me like I was from Mars, but that’s only because I’ve only been in his presence a handful of time and he doesn’t know who the hell I am. ( I’m the guy who in less than one hour got a digital image from a children’s book to him aboard Air Force II of a full size color photo of Geppetto’s Gold-Buckled shoes so that he could play a practical joke on his press secretary.)
But so many days later, nobody has that title.