GOP supporters lament defeat

By Jed Layton, Hinckley Institute Journalism Program

PHOENIX, Ariz.8212;Mark Simmons refused to give up hope.

He held red streamers in one hand and a plate of spicy nachos and salsa in the other. Every few minutes he would put the streamer down and run his hand through his hair and rub his face. Wrinkles of worry lined his forehead and a small frown creased his mouth as he stood at the Republican National Party election night celebration.

Even as CNN projected Obama to be the next president after polls closed on the west coast, Simmons refused to believe what he was seeing.

“It does not look good, I will admit that,” he said. Simmons, from Mesa, Ariz., volunteered for McCain during the past two months, traveling to New Mexico twice to knock on doors. “I am a bit worried but I still have hope. McCain supporters never give up because McCain never gave up.”

At the ritzy Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix, thousands of rally attendees crowded into ballrooms, conference rooms, restaurants and the courtyard lawn hoping to see Sen. John McCain achieve a victory. However, watch partygoers were disappointed to see their presidential hopeful be defeated by a large margin.

McCain volunteers were the hardest hit emotionally.

Mike Andrews spent Election Day at the McCain GOP headquarters making phone calls encouraging people to get out and vote. He is originally from Virginia but has spent the past three months in Arizona campaigning for McCain.

“I have not seen my wife in three months,” he said. “So I it will be really hard for me if McCain ends up losing tonight. I think Obama volunteers would take it the same way if he loses. He put a lot of heart, time and money into these campaigns.”

The night started out well for McCain volunteers and supporters. The Arizona senator was the first to obtain electoral votes, winning Kentucky. He quickly added West Virginia, Tennessee and South Carolina.

“McCain is looking good right now,” said Jerry Fawcett, a private contractor from Gilbert, Ariz., when McCain led in electoral votes 21 to 3. “If I were Barack Obama I would be pretty worried right now.”

But later in the evening as Obama was projected to win Ohio and Pennsylvania, some enthusiasm was let out of the crowd.

Cherry Freeman, from Scottsdale, Ariz., had tears in her eyes as she pulled out a calculator and began to do Electoral College math.

She punched in 2078212;the number of electoral votes Obama had at 9:408212;and then put in 55, 11 and seven8212;the number of electoral votes for California, Washington and Oregon.

“The three West Coast states are going to go for Obama,” she said as the total came out to 280, 10 points more than needed to win the election. “Oh, well. I have put a lot of effort into this campaign. A lot of time away from my kids and my family and my job.”

At the end of a long campaign, McCain addressed supporters and volunteers in a concession speech in the courtyard of the hotel.

“We fought as hard as we could, although we fell short, the failure is mine, not yours,” McCain said. “The road was a difficult one from the outset.”

Rondi Warner, a part time volunteer for McCain, said she was impressed by the former presidential candidate’s speech.

“He is a good man. He wants us to support the country, even if that means supporting Obama,” she said. “I do not think it was his fault he lost. It was just a hard situation for any Republican. I do not regret volunteering for him, but I wish the outcome was different.”

McCain said the campaign was the most challenging campaign of modern times. He did not know what he did wrong to lose the race, but he was not sad he tried.

“I won’t spend a moment of the future regretting what might have been,” he said.

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Editor’s Note8212;Jed Layton is a U student reporting from Phoenix, Ariz. through the Hinckley Institute of Politics and Shantou University.

Associated Press / Chris Carlson

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., gestures as he addresses a rally with supporters on election night in Phoenix, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008.