Election day started well. As I was waiting for the light to change on Market Street in the city, Mark Munro, a Channel Nine cameraman, waved to me from the window of his car and said: “Hi, Tom, I heard he’s about to win Florida. Is that true?”
And I replied: “I hope so. I’m about to find out. I’m off to the US Consulate General and US Studies Centre Election watch.”
When I got to the venue at King Street Brewhouse, just after noon, in Sydney, 8pm US East Coast time, the news wasn’t all that good. Although he was up in Florida, he was down in New Jersey. Surely Jersey couldn’t go against him.
There were signs I was among friends, though, at the 2011 Election Watch celebration, hosted by the US Consul General, Niels Marquardt, and the CEO of the US Studies Centre, Dr Bates Gill. They thanked me for coming, but they deserved all the thanks. As you walked in, there were campaign buttons in red, white and blue hats, and all the Obama-Biden ones were gone! I took a Romney-Ryan button anyway – for historical reasons – and a Democrat Donkey one, as well. There was an unofficial election ballot, held by the Election Consulting Group, and that was won by Barack Obama. More of that later.
Among the celebrants were former PM, Bob Hawke; chair of the ABC, Jim Spiegelman; Labor Party historian, Troy Bramston; ABC political commentator and Kitchen Cabinet presenter, Annabel Crabb; veteran journalist and ABC broadcaster, Andrew West; former Liberal NSW Premier, Nick Greiner, former Labor NSW Premier, Kristina Keneally; Amnesty International’s Claire Mallinson and Katie Wood; and various MPs, like former tennis player, John Alexander. And a regular at such gatherings, Kamahl!
As the hours passed, I kept a close eye on Florida and Ohio, two bellwether states, and Obama stayed ahead, but Romney wasn’t far behind.
For previous election nights as a journalist, going back to the 1976 election of Jimmy Carter, I was always at work, either in a newsroom or at a satellite feedpoint in Washington. This time I was in a pleasant pub, watching the results from CNN (thankfully, Fox News was nowhere in sight!), with a beer and pretzels and popcorn, supplied by the publican. And Obama was winning. It was bliss!
One of the swing states, Pennsylvania, where I voted, was close when I walked in, but Obama started to pull away, with a massive 84-15 lead, thanks to my home town, Philadelphia. Romney continued to lead in the popular vote, but that wasn’t a worry. Barack Obama was winning the battleground states, and, as a result, the all-important electoral votes.
It must have given Republicans hope to see the Empire State building lit up in blue and red columns, with the red of the GOP slightly higher than the blue, reflecting the popular vote. But it gave Democrats a real boost to see the building turn blue later in the evening!
However, Romney was still leading in the electoral votes column, with a slim margin in Ohio and Virginia, with CNN declining to project a victory in those states until they were sure. By the way, CNN’s coverage was very good, and I can say, without fear, more objective than Fox News – even though I couldn’t watch the right-wing network!
Finally, though, a projection that prompted a cheer – CNN declared Pennsylvania for Obama at 1.41pm, and I mentioned to Claire and Katie that Romney had wasted his time making last-minute campaign stops in the Keystone State. Too many Democrats there!
FRONT-ROW SEATS FOR BOB HAWKE AND ANNABEL CRABB
Bob Hawke arrived soon afterwards, and sat down next to Annabel Crabb (age, status and pregnancy gave them front row seats), with former NSW Legislative Council president, Meredith Burgmann, on their right. Hawke was engrossed in the telecast from the moment he sat down (and later had a glass of red with lunch), and only left for a few minutes to do an interview with ABC News 24, persuaded by producer Johanna Hatcher.
Around 2.15pm, Democratic strategist, James Carville, said if things keep going the way they are, “It looks like he’ll be back.” And I told Katie Wood and Niels Marquardt, he’s usually right. Niels agreed, saying: “Yes, he doesn’t BS.” I breathed a sigh of relief, but it wasn’t time to celebrate yet. Romney was still ahead in the popular vote, Virginia and North Carolina.
Senior CNN political analyst David Gergen summed up the closeness of the vote: “We have a divided country.”
The organisers turned down the sound briefly to allow the director of the Election Consulting Group, Debra Pitman, to announce the result of the unofficial ballot, and the result: 99 votes for Barack Obama and Joe Biden, to 33 for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. A landslide! If only it could happen in the real election!
Then the projections came thick and fast: Wisconsin to Obama, North Carolina to Romney; the Democrats retain control of the Senate; Iowa to Obama, California to Obama, and with 55 electoral votes from the Golden State, suddenly the President took a dramatic lead: 262 electoral votes to 191.
At 3.18pm AEDT (11.18pm US ET), CNN projected the winner of the election: Barack Obama, to much cheering at the King Street Brewhouse, and cries of “take that, Mitt,” and “Don’t say that, it means we have to go back to work!” At this point, Mitt Romney was still ahead in the popular vote, but it was all over bar the shouting. A banner at the bottom of the screen screamed: ROMNEY NOT READY TO CONCEDE, and I said: “We could be here all night!”
During the waiting for the concession, the analysis began. James Carville said the Tea Party cost the Republicans five Senate seats, and it certainly wasn’t a victory for the conservatives.
I took the opportunity to leave my gracious host at the King Street Brewhouse, Graeme Thompson, who had railed at the $2billion spent on the campaign (he’s right, of course), and move on to Bar 333 on George Street, where the Democrats Abroad were celebrating.
It was a more boisterous crowd at 333, younger and more casually dressed (it was business attire at King Street). There were loud cheers when Barack Obama won Colorado, another swing state, and even though there were five tv sets around the bar, all tuned in to CNN. Another loss for Fox News!
ROMNEY’S VERY GRACIOUS SPEECH
There were buttons and t-shirts on sale to raise funds for Democrats Abroad and www.votefromAbroad.org, a website that has greatly increased the number of votes from overseas for elections in America. A woman came in, looking for the buttons, as she had missed out buying them in Hawaii. On the subject of campaign material, Shannon Knapp of Democrats Abroad had been in Florida recently and was worried she hadn’t seen any garden sticks for Obama-Biden. But I told her: “Don’t worry. Democrats are just more concerned about the environment.”
Then the big moment finally came: Romney’s concession in Boston. It was a very gracious speech: “I have just called President Obama to congratulate him on his victory. His supporters and his campaign also deserve congratulations. I wish all of them well, but particularly the President, the First Lady and their daughters. This is a time of great challenges for America, and I pray that the President will be successful in guiding our nation.”
And even more important, Romney pleaded for an end to the political in-fighting: “The nation, as you know, is at a critical point. At a time like this, we can’t risk partisan bickering and political posturing. Our leaders have to reach across the aisle to do the people’s work.” A plea ignored by Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, who let it be known the Republicans would continue to challenge the President: “The voters have not endorsed the failures or excesses of the President’s first term, they have simply given him more time to finish the job they asked him to do together with a Congress that restored balance to Washington after two years of one-party control.” http://wapo.st/ST0Oob
After Romney’s speech, which was his best of the campaign, it suddenly got quiet in the bar, as everyone waited for the President to appear in Chicago. At 5.35pm AEDT, Barack Obama stepped on to the stage, and cheers erupted around the world, especially in a bar in Sydney, to give one of the best political speeches of our time, with a rousing opening: “Tonight, more than 200 years after a former colony won the right to determine its own destiny, the task of perfecting our union moves forward. It moves forward because of you. It moves forward because you reaffirmed the spirit that has triumphed over war and depression, the spirit that has lifted this country from the depths of despair to the great heights of hope, the belief that while each of us will pursue our own individual dreams, we are an American family and we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people. Tonight, in this election, you, the American people, reminded us that while our road has been hard, while our journey has been long, we have picked ourselves up, we have fought our way back, and we know in our hearts that for the United States of America the best is yet to come.”
I could go on, but you can read a full transcript of the speech here from the Washington Post http://wapo.st/WCkL5Z, or watch the video on the same website. All I can say is that by the end of the speech, I had tears running down my face, and I noticed some others in the audience with the same affliction. His speech was also gracious to Mitt Romney: “We may have battled fiercely, but it’s only because we love this country deeply and we care so strongly about its future. From George to Lenore to their son Mitt, the Romney family has chosen to give back to America through public service and that is the legacy that we honor and applaud tonight.”
President Obama’s speech was hopeful, as you’d expect, and stirring, as is his custom, and incredibly moving. But Romney did fight the good fight, and I do hope that he and Barack Obama sit down together in the next few weeks, “to talk about where they can work together to move this country forward,” as the President said in his speech.
And, as he also said near the end of his speech, which drew a thunderous ovation at Bar 333, he believes that America is not a divided country: “I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America.”
From sea to shining sea, America will be watching and hoping that Barack Obama’s dream of bipartisanship comes true.
The world will also be watching.