What makes Election Night parties different than perhaps any other celebration is that they take place in a sort of cable-news echo chamber. For most of the evening, the crowd at the Mitt Romney Victory Party at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center was watching Fox News. When Fox would show a burst of good news, the audience would cheer, which would lead Fox to quickly cut to the party at the ballroom, and the Republicans here would cheer louder, now seeing themselves broadcast on the screens that were looming over their party.
But for most of Tuesday night, there were not many reasons to cheer here in Boston. The news started out bad, with Barack Obama grabbing the key battleground states of New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, and it got progressively worse as the path for Mitt Romney to reach 270 electoral votes got slimmer and slimmer, with Michigan falling, then Minnesota, then Wisconsin.
At an exclusive backstage room for some of the most generous donors to the Romney campaign, Paul Ryan arrived to thank them for pulling together the millions of dollars that fueled the campaign. But the appearance of the popular congressman did little to lift the mood.
“It’s grim. People are in a state of shock,” said one person who was in the room. “We will keep the House, but the Senate is a fucking disaster.”
Still, like other Republicans here, this person said there was hope. “We have to thread the needle. We have to win every state out there. We can do it but it is not easy.”
A campaign adviser told The Daily Beast that they were “being realistic” about what the scenario was, but that they were trying to remain optimistic. “So we aren’t winning the states we weren’t supposed to win,” he said.
Which was the problem that the campaign faced all along. For months, reporters have been corner aides, asking, “What is your map?” since Obama seemed to have an electoral college firewall. Don’t worry about the details, the aides responded, our path is wide and short.
Down on the floor, eyes started to water and redden. The boisterousness that had fueled the party a few hours earlier fell to a whisper. It got harder to find a supporter not holding a beer or a glass of red wine, and then impossible, when campaign aides started to keep reporters off the floor.
The debate, about whether or not there was any kind of path for Romney, and what the party should do next—move to the center or keep veering to the right—was playing both on the screens and on the floor. “They will have to modernize,” said John Legittino, who had come to Boston from Chicago. “On abortion, health care. The Republican Party will have to come into the 21st century.”
More states fell. Iowa. Colorado. Then Ohio. Save for the dour voice of Brit Hume, broadcast over the worst party you have ever been to, it became eerily silent in Boston.
A junior aide came by the press table to wonder why the hacks weren’t typing any more. “We are waiting to see the results,” one said. It was a joke. The writing was on the wall, the carpets, the lights, the screens.
The aide rolled her eyes, as if to say, Who do you think you are kidding?
But wait! Perhaps Ohio was alive! Karl Rove said so, on Fox no less! For a moment there was hope. The screams were back. The network cut to Carl Cameron, the network’s chief political correspondent who has been embedded with the Romney campaign and who is greeted at campaign stops with as much enthusiasm as the candidate, posing for pictures, signing autographs.
Cameron announced that the game was still on: “No one has the left hall here!”
But even Cameron couldn’t sustain the energy. The other networks, which would be switched to occasionally by some apparently invisible remote control, weren’t as shy about calling Ohio, but also pointed out that it wouldn’t matter much. On CNN, Candy Crowley, the villain of the third debate who was covering this party, tried to sign the campaign’s death warrant. A cascade of boos meant that no one here could hear her and, because of the cable hall of mirrors, that hardly anyone else watching at home could hear her, either.
More than an hour later, after some chatter that he would drag it out, Romney at last came out to concede. He was brief, speaking for less than five minutes.
“Like so many of you, Paul and I have left everything on the field,” he said, standing onstage alone. “We have given our all to this campaign.”
A few people tried to start up a chant, one of the standbys, either “Mitt! Mitt! Mitt!” or “USA! USA! USA!” But nothing could really get going. It was just Romney, alone up there, although both of the screens projected his image out into the hall, and to the world beyond.