At Watch Parties, Students Share the Same Space but Not the Same Views

College Democrats and Republicans at George Washington U. root for their candidates in adjacent ballrooms

William Atkins, George Washington U.

Obama supporters celebrate at George Washington U.
November 07, 2012

Fox News was streaming live in the Continental Ballroom on the third floor of George Washington University's Marvin Center, while MSNBC was streaming next door in the Grand Ballroom. It was 7 p.m. on Tuesday night, and GWU students were ready to watch the results of the election.

Clad in red, white, and blue, stars and stripes, or T-shirts depicting the face of their chosen candidate, College Democrats and College Republicans milled into the adjacent ballrooms. Along with the university's Program Board, a nonpartisan student organization, the groups had pooled their funds to provide food, T-shirts, and activities for attendees. In the Continental Ballroom, the College Republicans' headquarters for the night, a mechanical bull had been set up, while next door was an inflatable arena for jousting.

After signing waivers, two College Democrats wearing blue T-shirts signed waivers to spar in a jousting match. The night's first face-off had just begun.

A 'Game Changer'

Signs of "Romney Ryan 2012" and "America's Comeback Team" were posted around the Continental Ballroom. A blank map of the United States was on the stage, waiting to be filled in with the appropriate colors. College Republicans wearing red T-shirts that said "Keep Calm and Count the Votes" or navy ones with the words "Vote Responsibly, Vote Republican!" waited in the buffet line to load up plates of fried chicken, tater tots, and macaroni and cheese.

An air of optimism had filled the room. A little after 8 p.m., Amelia Wolf, a junior and the director of membership of GWU College Republicans, shouted into a microphone, "Hey all, we have Oklahoma for Romney! Who wants to color in the map?"

While the other members of the College Republicans' executive board were in Boston for Mitt Romney's rally, Ms. Wolf was leading the night's event. A native of Toledo, Ohio, she had voted absentee because she wanted her vote to count in that swing state. Ms. Wolf said she thought the governor was the right choice for the White House, especially for college students, because she believes he would take care of the economy and make sure jobs are waiting for graduates in the next few years.

"I think there's a lot of hope," Ms. Wolf said of her fellow students' enthusiasm. "In the last month, Romney gained a lot of traction. Tonight there seems to be a lot of anticipation, a lot of high energy. Tonight can be a game changer."

The Festivities Continue

The high energy continued in the Grand Ballroom, where the channel had been changed to CNN. The temperature was noticeably higher in this room because of the number of Democratic students. At 9 p.m., the doors had been propped open to cool down the room, and the jousting arena had been taken down to make more space for students.

Each time CNN showed a countdown to the next round of polls closing, College Democrats shouted the seconds on the clock.

"Five ... four ... three ... two ... ONE!" Cheers erupted as President Obama took Michigan, New York, and New Jersey.

In the crowd, a young woman donned a donkey hat, a white T-shirt, red-white-and-blue suspenders, and blue pants. Joy Dhar is a first-time voter, and when her absentee ballot didn't come from Illinois, she registered and voted on the same day in Washington.

"GW has a really great system where they had vans take us to the polls," she said.

Ms. Dhar, a freshman, said GWU students had made informed decisions on their votes. "Republicans are informed about why they're voting for their candidate," she said, "and Democrats know why they are for our party."

Even hours before the results were called, Ms. Dhar had a strong feeling President Obama would be re-elected. She was a match for the College Republicans' optimism.

"I haven't been over to the Republicans side yet," she said, "but I hear this side is a bit more festive."

'4 More Years'

After a few hours, the energy on both sides had dwindled. But at 10:59 p.m., the Grand Ballroom was packed with College Democrats counting down CNN's latest projection. Seeing President Obama pull ahead with 228 electoral votes by winning California, Hawaii, and Washington, students screamed, jumped up and down, and held their fists in the air.

The energy continued to build. As CNN showed more and more states going blue, the students got louder and more raucous. iPhones waved in the air above students' heads as they took pictures of the room and of the screen to upload to Twitter and Facebook. After Iowa was called, one member of the College Democrats took the stage.

"Once CNN calls it, let's head to the White House!" he shouted into the microphone. The room erupted in cheers.

"Tonight we showed pundits that 2008 was no fluke," he continued, referring to the impact of the youth vote. "We built this campaign!"

Cheers quieted as CNN said it had a new projection: The re-election of President Obama.

Students were jumping, hugging, screaming, and crying as they stormed the exits to march to the White House.

Next door, in the Continental Ballroom, only a handful of College Republicans remained, quietly huddled together, as chants of "Four More Years!" were heard from outside.