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By Charles Lam
After exiting the stage, he does a funky spinaroo move.
Earlier, a Hunt supporter approached me to comment on our photographer’s laptop. When asked how he thought the night was going for Hunt, he didn’t seem all that hopeful. But, he said, if Hunt loses, it’s not the end of the world. “People thought the world would end when Barack [Obama] won,” he pointed out. “And that hasn’t happened.” We know a few commentators on FOX News—which is playing on a TV screen in the room—who might disagree.
12:25 a.m.: On the running board of a gorgeous, cherry-colored antique Packard in Original Mike’s, the sheriff sits with her legs crossed, her elbow on her knee, her chin on her knuckles, looking up at the screen that shows the Registrar of Voters’ results. She’s beaming. Another update comes: Her lead drops a few points to 52.4 percent. Hutchens is still smiling. With nearly 80 percent of precincts reporting, you get the sense she’s starting to envision what life might be like without having to campaign in a run-off.
A group of already-sloshed business guys took shots of tequila at the bar, toasting, “To our newly elected sheriff!”
12:43 a.m.: The lights at Original Mike’s are on timer, and it’s late enough that they all, at once, shut off. A cry went up: “But she’s the sheriff!” The bulbs promptly went back on.
We walk up to the sheriff while she’s in mid-conversation with a supporter. Hutchens is saying something about the “electoral mandate.” You can understand what she’s talking about: If she wins outright tonight, that means she’s no longer in office merely by the whim of three county supervisors. “I’m really happy,” she tells us. “It was difficult being an appointed sheriff. This is validation by the people.”
1:41 p.m.: By the time we get back down to Hunt’s Ballroom of Freedom in Laguna Hills, the final precincts have been counted, and the race was done: Hutchens 51.9 percent, Hunt 28 percent, Hunter 20.1 percent. No run-off needed.
Whitacre is once again onstage, running down the list of races that, given the night’s outcome, the tea-party crowd could influence in the fall. Hunt stands on the edge of the small dance floor facing the stage, flanked by fans. Hands in pockets, shoulders slumped forward, pursed-lip smile on his face, he is the picture of upbeat deflation. “There’s still the Constitution,” we hear one consoler say. Another thanks Hunt for getting him to become more involved in politics than he ever had been in his life.
What to make of the loss? “The people have spoken,” Hunt says. “That’s what this whole thing’s about.” Then he winks.
A version of this story previously appeared on the Weekly’s Navel Gazing blog.