The good news started rolling in shortly before 3 pm. Exit polls from 10 key states showed that Democrats were leading the Senate races in eight—even in places like Ohio and Missouri—while Republicans were only pulling through in Tennessee and Arizona.
The trend held all night.
Thanks to the Republicans' bungling of the Iraq War, President Bush's unpopularity (he's got a dismal 35 percent job approval rating), a stagnant economy for all but the wealthiest Americans, the Ted Haggard scandal, and Jack Abramoff—exit polling by CNN indicated that voters were citing "corruption in Washington" as their most important issue, and 62 percent of voters told CNN that national issues were foremost in their mind at the polls—the Democrats took control of the House of Representatives.
Shortly after 8 pm at Jeff Cogen's party—over pizza, a salad bar, and RC Cola at the Kennedy School in Northeast Portland—someone announced that the Democrats had taken the House. A cheer went up in the crowd. By 8:30 pm, CNN had projected that the Democrats picked up 17 seats, two more than they needed to regain control of the House. At the Democratic headquarters in downtown Portland, US Representative Earl Blumenauer handed out "Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi" signs in honor of the national wins. Earlier in the evening, Dems were just four seats short of taking the Senate.
In Oregon, Ted Kulongoski took an early lead over Ron Saxton, and the slate of conservative state ballot measures were headed for defeat. The measure that would reform campaign finance was succeeding—but the requisite constitutional amendment to allow such a reform was going down, leaving the campaigns perplexed as to the effect the hybrid win would have on campaign finance laws.
One of the highest stakes measures—the one that would require parental notification for teenagers seeking abortions—was being defeated by nearly 55 percent of voters, thanks in part to a smart pro-choice-led campaign that included a surreal television spot featuring an abusive dad getting a notification letter, and storming after his teen daughter.
At the Benson Hotel—headquarters for the Democrats—Kulongoski was reportedly holed up in a room upstairs. Downstairs, Democratic supporters bellied up to the lobby bar and downed fancy whiskey, while the rest of the crowd bought six-dollar cocktails in the shoulder-to-shoulder crowded Mayfair Room and watched a set of TV screens—one played Dancing with the Stars, while the rest carried the national news via CNN and local stations. The buffet table was drowning in huge cheese platters, crudités, and indecipherable seafood—scallops or shrimp, our reporter couldn't tell—on skewers.
Shortly before 9 pm, local Dems cheered Rob Brading, who looked like he'd be defeating State House Speaker Karen Minnis by the narrowest of margins. Upstairs at the Benson, in the House Democrats control room on the third floor, political wonks crunched numbers and sheets of paper detailing the races covered every wall. State House Democrats needed to pick up four seats to gain control and make Jeff Merkley the House Speaker. While Merkley was reluctant to make any pronouncements, several races were looking good for the Democrats, including Brading's and Chris Edwards'.
Over at the Hilton on SW 6th, the Republicans were in a far more somber mood. The crowd—in a much larger ballroom than the Democrats, but with less attendees—mingled over popcorn and pretzels, and stayed glued to the TV sets. Ron Saxton, whose name was festooned on balloons dotting the ballroom, appeared briefly early in the evening, then retreated—only to emerge shortly before 10 pm to concede to Kulongoski.
Next door to the Republican's ballroom, the Protect Our Teen Girls Committee—the group backing the abortion notification measure, but largely devoid of teenage girls—snacked on crab and artichoke dip and watched their measure fail. Campaign Manager Sarah Nashif gave a tearful concession speech shortly before 10 pm: "This is an Oregon campaign with Oregon people, Oregon volunteers, Oregon money, and Oregon leadership and we should be very proud of the job that we did today." Chief petitioner Felicia Bautista—the young woman who had an abortion at age 15, and became the campaign's figurehead—sat in a corner, looking dazed.
In other Oregon measures, the only conservative one that looked likely to prevail was M39—which would prohibit private property condemnation. Measures imposing term limits and curtailing state spending were defeated, and folks from the Defend Oregon Coalition—which worked to defeat the slate of conservative measures—snapped a big group photo at the Treasury Ballroom, before dashing across the street to celebrate at the Benson.
(Nationally, on the good news front, voters overturned an abortion ban in South Dakota, and the minimum raise was raised in Missouri, Montana, Arizona, Nevada and Ohio. However, Wisconsin, Virginia, Tennessee, Colorado, Idaho, and South Carolina banned same-sex marriage.)
Meanwhile, in NE Portland, the only competitive local race—for Multnomah County Commissioner—played out at Spice, a restaurant on Martin Luther King Boulevard, and the Kennedy School. Dan Saltzman's chief of staff, Jeff Cogen, held a comfortable lead for much of the night and danced to '80s hits at the McMenamins' outpost, while his opponent, Lew Frederick, greeted supporters at the door at his party, where folks noshed on chicken Caesar wraps and checked out a slideshow of Frederick on the campaign trail. Both camps didn't expect fresh poll results until much later in the evening, and their parties were winding down early.
And at Outlaws on East Burnside, our favorite judicial candidate, Cheryl Albrecht, gave a rousing approaching-victory speech to her small crowd of PBR-swilling tattooed fans. "Our opponents spent about $50,000 on their campaigns. Guess how much we spent? $10,000."
Finally, just before 10 pm, Ted Kulongoski took the stage at the Benson to declare victory, and reporters surrounded possible new State House Speaker Merkley to get his thoughts on the night. "This is an opportunity for us to present a wonderful agenda on healthcare, on prescription drugs, a full school year for children, biofuels, and a real conversation about civil rights and civil unions."