O, America . . .

Reflections on Election Day, 2004

STIFFER THAN KERRY

Anaheim, 9:11 p.m.

As Orange County Democrats gather in the Disneyland Hotel, two big-screen TVs are projecting a Bush victory in Florida. This is not only bad news for the Kerry backers, but also for the Lost Boys, who were just finishing their version of that beloved campaign standard "Lay Down Sally" to tremendous indifference. As people drank, Robin Umberg, wife of Democratic 69th Assembly District candidate Tom Umberg, went about the business of arranging her husband on the stage. You see, Tom isn't with us anymore. Actually, he hasn't been around for a while. A colonel in the Army Reserve, he was called up to serve as a military prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay. So while he's been prosecuting suspected terrorists, Robin has been schlepping a cardboard cutout of her husband to various political functions including tonight's festivities. Has Umberg's absence hurt him? Well, as of this hour, he has a comfortable 12 percent lead in his race against Republican Otto Bade, one of the great names of this campaign season. (By early Wednesday morning, Umberg would swamp Bade, 2-1.) Umberg, in his non-cardboarded form, is expected back in December. Robin, who served in the first Gulf War, addressed the assembled, but the celebration never really got going, as more and more red states popped up on the giant TV screens. State Senator Joe Dunn (D-Santa Ana) tried to rally the troops. "It's all about Ohio!" he declared. "We're going to win Ohio, right?" Half-hearted applause followed. Dunn soldiered on. "It was a long night four years ago, and it's going to be a long night tonight, but we're going to win!" About a half hour later, Fox News called Ohio for Bush. Something resembling a cheer went up when Kerry was projected to carry Oregon and its seven electoral votes. "You have to understand," said Paul Lucas, vice president of OC Dems, "these guys are trying to remain positive and hope this country comes to its senses." (Nick Schou)

STRIKE OUT

Newport Beach, 9:30 p.m.

Libertarian U.S. Senate candidate Judge Jim Gray got about 2 percent of the vote, a respectable showing for a campaign predetermined to fail. At his campaign headquarters, he says he was pleased with his showing but that he believed he would have done better if allowed to debate incumbent Barbara Boxer and Republican challenger Bill Jones. In a strange way, Jones' inept campaign may have hurt Gray since it seemed to draw little attention or energy to the race. "This felt like a campaign that never really got started," Gray says. Will he run again? "Oh, I'm not thinking about that right now. I'm just going to take a couple of days off and go to Colorado with my wife [Grace]. Then I'm going back to work. I took a year off from [being a Superior Court judge], and it's time to go back and earn an honest living." Still, Gray did have some fire left for the opponents of Proposition 66, which would have amended California's Three Strikes law. "I've seen the damage Three Strikes has caused, and those people--like Governor Schwarzenegger and Governor Davis and all the rest who came out at the last minute against Prop. 66--know the damage, but they did it because they know appearing to be tough on crime always gets votes. It's unconscionable what they did." (Steve Lowery)

THAT ELECTION THING

Chapman University, Orange, 10 p.m.

They're cheering in the student union, but it's just for a karaoke contest: "I held my nose/I closed my
eyes/I took a drink!" I wouldn't learn till Wednesday that just 10 percent of kids 18-24 voted in this election. The TV is three rooms away, hung over a dozen empty cafeteria tables and a half-dozen silent kids, heads slumped into their hands. Upstairs: "They still doing that election thing?" asks the guy on the stairs. "Yeah," says the guy coming down. "There any free food?" "Naw, it's all gone." They walk out together. (Chris Ziegler)

AMBIEN TIME

Costa Mesa, midnight

At Avalon Bar, Sean Mulvahill is deejaying, a bunch of '50s and '60s shit but nothing political--maybe the gunshots on "My Baby Loves Western Movies," maybe the Shangri-Las walkin' in the sand: "Oh, no! Oh, no! Oh, no, oh, no, oh, no!" The bartender is trying to make change but not finding the bills (or something): "Now don't go all George Bush on me!" says the drinker. It sorta hangs for just a second and then he pulls it back: "Naw, naw, just kidding." The TV is showing a movie; a death's-headed guy with a knife freezes in silhouette under a lurid title: MADHOUSE! There's a lot of laughing. There are only a few people here. Across the street, Detroit is almost empty. "I think people are just home with the covers over their heads," says a guy. At the end of the bar, a girl beams, glides her arm toward her purse, slips forward and kisses her boy. Somebody's cell phone beeps. A text message: I AM GOING TO TAKE MY AMBIEN I AM SO SAD ABOUT KERRY. (Chris Ziegler)

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