“I feel dazed and stunned,” said Margot, a 25-year-old UCLA law student as she stared at the TV showing John Kerry slipping 136,000 votes behind George W. Bush in the crucial Ohio tally and nearly 4 million nationally. “I know this is a great loss, but I’m numb. Like it hasn’t fully hit me yet.”
Her words pretty much summed up the postelection scene on the second floor of the aptly named Ice House Lounge. Hundreds of volunteer canvassers who had poured into Nevada for a final ground campaign to defeat Bush were now gathered to help one another adjust to a bitter reality–another four-year term for the incumbent.
Election day in Las Vegas had started much better than it was ending. More than 1,000 volunteers mustered at 7 am in a hangar-sized tent near downtown and were methodically equipped with two-way radios, Palm Pilots, precinct maps and voter lists. They were one division in the small army assembled by pro-Democratic 527 groups and coordinated by America Coming Together (ACT). Their spirits were soaring. “We’re hitting 45,000 doors today with 143 teams of seven people each,” said a hopeful Mike Garcia, president of the Los Angeles-based Local 1877 of the Service Employees International Union, home of the legendary Justice for Janitors movement. “In twenty-three years of political activity, I have never seen anything like this sort of intensity.”
That palpable intensity built among the canvassing teams as exit polls filtered out around noon showing not only a national pro-Kerry wave but also Nevada coming into reach of the Democrats. Kerry, indeed, took a lead in the early evening returns. But as his numbers turned south nationally, he eventually lost the Silver State as well.
Disappointment hit hard. “People voted for Bush because of fear of change, because he has more Christian values,” concluded 24-year-old healthcare union organizer René Sebeny. A former Howard Dean supporter, she now figures that he too would have been defeated. “Now I think in this political environment only a candidate who is more center-right has a chance of winning.”
Some among the volunteers were still hoping against hope that Kerry could pull out a victory after the provisional ballots were counted in Ohio. “I give Kerry no more than a 1 out of 10 chance on that front,” said another young ACT volunteer, an aide to a liberal Los Angeles city councilman. “I say let loose the ninja lawyers. Unleash them on Ohio.”