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Bush Campaign Celebrates Results

By Michael M. Grynbaum, Crimson Staff Writer

WASHINGTON, D.C.—President Bush’s most devoted supporters were exuberant but cautious early this morning, relishing their candidate’s apparent victory but aware that legal challenges may be looming on the horizon.

Over 4,000 guests gathered early yesterday evening in the Atrium Hall of the Ronald Reagan Building here, enthusiastic for an extended Election Night fete for President Bush but aware they might be in for a long night.

The formally dressed audience entered the Republican National Committee (RNC) event early yesterday evening amid word of exit polls giving Kerry an edge, but the energy of the room grew throughout the night as news networks began calling major swing states, in particular Florida, for Bush. By 11 p.m., the audience could smell a victory and by 1 a.m., they were all but feasting on it.

An announcer teased the audience around 2 a.m., promising “one last guest speaker.”

At 5:10 a.m., it was announced that the President would not address the nation until later. John Edwards told Kerry supporters gathered in Boston that the Democrats would continue to wait for further returns before conceding defeat.

Still, the mood here at the Ronald Reagan Building was very optimistic.

“I’m feeling energetic, really happy, encouraged,” said 20-year-old Jonathan Boos of Dallas, a junior at the University of Texas. “It’s been an amazing night for Republicans and the President. I think it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion. I’m so happy right now I can hardly explain.”

“I was nervous, but that was because it was a close race and such a brutal campaign,” said Kentucky Bush supporter Karen Caron. “[Now] I feel really good, very optimistic.”

But some remained cautious, especially as the news networks refrained from calling the election in Bush’s favor.

“Standing here, it’s hard to let yourself get excited after last election,” said Kate Diercker, a freshman at George Washington University.

The assembled guests—including dozens of college-age volunteers and staffers—spent the long night milling inside the Atrium, sipping champagne and mint juleps, and bobbing their heads to the succession of country bands brought in to keep the audience entertained. Voting returns were projected onto large-screen TVs sitting atop a star-spangled set.

“They’re charging for drinks!” exclaimed Ellie Marble, a GW sophomore attending the event with friends from her sorority, Alpha Delta Pi. “I think that’s kind of lame because we’re poor college students.”

Her companion, sophomore Kristen Hall, agreed. “They’re charging $4 for water,” she complained.

But the bar wasn’t a total wash.

“They weren’t IDing people who looked younger than me, and I’m definitely not 21,” sophomore Caitlyn McNally laughed.

The sorority sisters gained access to the party through Hall, whose sister works for RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie. Other undergraduates captured their invites through internships, campaign work or family connections.

Marble wasn’t looking forward to her French and statistics midterms this morning, but she said attending the RNC event was worth an all-nighter.

As the night wore on, guests began wondering just how long they would be standing around. Some women removed their heels, others headed to the bar for another drink. Students chatted with one another, planning their own future political triumphs. “I’ll be your campaign manager, all right?” one student excitedly asked another.

“At Harvard it seems like being a Republican is evil,” said Elizabeth A. Sykes ’04, a Bush-Cheney campaign staffer and guest at the RNC event. “To come here, to be surrounded by so many people who believe in the President like I do…it’s refreshing, it’s so inspirational.”

GRAND OLD HEADACHE

Pending the results of the count in Ohio, the atmosphere in the Reagan building was more jaded than jubilant.

“Today’s been terrible,” sighed GW senior Lee Roupas, sipping a smoothie in between shifts at RNC headquarters, where he’s worked for the past two months.

Exit polls not looking good? Ballot fraud running rampant?

“I had midterms,” he explained.

Roupas, the chairman of the College Republicans in Washington, D.C., started Election Day at 6 a.m., driving from campus to the RNC building on Capitol Hill. A campaign event coordinator, he planned several budgets before racing back to GW for a presentation in his political communications class, followed by an afternoon finance midterm. At 5 p.m. he was back at the RNC for last-minute phonebanking.

“I’m looking forward to returning to being a regular college student,” he said.

Roupas’ experience mirrors that of hundreds of student volunteers across the country who have donated time, energy and—in some cases—GPAs to an election that observers say has sparked the highest level of youth political participation in decades.

“It’s a demographic that makes a difference, has opinions, cares about the war on terror, cares about jobs after we graduate,” Roupas said. “Truthfully it’s been our own fault for not voting. [But now] people are saying, ‘Hey, make your voice heard.’”

Roupas said yesterday afternoon that he was prepared for further weeks of campaign work in case the election results were disputed. An RNC-issued BlackBerry handheld was attached to his belt, ready to call him back into the political fray.

“I’m hoping to be able to give it back tomorrow, but if not we’ll wait and see,” he said.

—Staff writer Michael M. Grynbaum can be reached at grynbaum@fas.harvard.edu.

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