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Cash Bar Sets Tone for GOP’s D.C. Gathering

Perhaps the Republican National Committee’s election night party was doomed from the beginning, when guests arrived to find a cash bar instead of a free-flowing booze-fest.

If not, it certainly didn’t help keep the crowds thick as the results slowly trickled in to show a bluer electoral map than red.

At the start of the evening, the Ronald Reagan Building in downtown Washington, D.C., showed signs of success. Organizers had been expecting huge crowds. The guests were, by and large, young and beautiful, with the women wearing elephant-print dresses and the men wearing bowties. People gladly paid for chips with which to buy rocks glasses of Johnnie Walker Red and flutes of champagne. The food was free, though, and the spread ranged from lobster mac n’ cheese to chicken satay.

The entertainment – a lineup of country music performers – also seemed to capture people’s attention during the first portion of the night. At 9:30 p.m., President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney seemed far away from the 270 mark needed to clinch a victory. Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) fired up a rapt audience by touting their success in holding the House majority.

But by 10:30 p.m., even as the first round of refreshments were being swapped out for pizzas and giant pretzels, the crowds were thinning out. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus came on stage midway through blind country music legend Ronnie Milsap’s set to tell everyone, “We will be back in a few minutes” and “We’re having a great time tonight.”

Baffling the audience and reporters poised with tape recorders and notebooks, Priebus left after about 30 seconds and never came back.

The emcee for the evening, Jett Williams (daughter of Hank Williams Sr.), said there was a long night ahead.

“It’s not over ’til it’s over,” she said.

By 11:15 p.m., it was over. The music cut out when the RNC party’s news network of choice, Fox News, was broadcast onto the big screen of the reception hall to call the race for Obama. The audience was quiet, and not in a good way. Lots of people downed their drinks and headed toward the door, perhaps determined to watch Romney’s concession speech from the privacy of their own homes.

Some party-goers stuck around long enough to share their sentiments.

Republican political strategist Rina Shah, whose eyes moistened with tears slightly on hearing the news, said lessons will be learned from the loss and the GOP will be stronger for it.

“He wasn’t able to establish a strong ground game in order to beat that Democratic messaging machine in the crucial states of Florida, Ohio and Virginia,” Shah said. “Although we are still waiting for some returns, we know the ground game certainly was not strong enough.”

Stephen Howell — a student at Duke University who is interning at the Abraham Group, a consulting firm headed by former Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.) – said he was considering betting $3,000 that Obama would win, but he decided not to bet against his own team.

“I am kind of kicking myself about it now,” Howell said. “I really think Romney left the youth out of his campaign.”

“I am going to go home and cry,” said Shoshana Weissmann, who runs GW for Mitt Romney. “I have supported Romney since I was 14, and I’ve been on his campaign for a year and a half.”

“I am just hoping that President Obama will do what’s right … and fix our economy, but I have strong doubt that that will be the case,” she said.

Nobody seemed to be in a party mood anymore, but the event was officially set to end at 2 a.m., and the show must go on. In a particularly awkward moment, Williams cut out the Fox News footage of cheering Obama fans and introduced the next performer, Collin Raye, without mentioning the disappointing results.

Raye also didn’t acknowledge the outcome until a few songs in.

“We came here to have a party,” he said. “We’ll party anyway.”

“Drink up. Drink, drink, drink,” he added.

Four or five women stood in front of the stage and cheered. Elsewhere, the bartenders were enjoying the first moment of the evening when there wasn’t a line for drinks.

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Photos of the week ending December 8, 2023