Election party hopping


Krista Tschetter & John Hult

The candidates spend months on the campaign trail … shaking hands, meeting potential voters and dissecting issues. It all culminates in one tension-filled night, much like the opening night of a play after weeks and months of rehearsal.

Except there’s only one performance. The next night the stage is bare. Issues move to the forefront once again as candidates either prepare for their new roles as public servants or pack away feelings of defeat and move on, change into street clothes and wipe the makeup off their faces.

Welcome to election night.

Republican Party Headquarters 8:30 p.m.

The Ramada Inn in Sioux Falls is bustling already.

Supporters wearing umpteen stickers and banners sit, stand or crouch around television sets, watching local and national results begin to trickle in.

Three times between 8:30 p.m. and 9 p.m., speakers approach the podium, announcing early Republican victories from across the nation.

Jeb Bush will stay on as Florida’s governor. Elizabeth Dole took a North Carolina Senate seat.

At this early hour, speakers are already alluding to a victory in the South Dakota governor’s race. The small, definite victories raise approving nods and a smattering of applause, but supporters are noticably preoccupied with the suspense of the heated Johnson/Thune race.

Associated Press Bureau Headquarters for North Dakota and South Dakota, 9:20 p.m.

There are 50 extra people in the third floor office space of the AP headquarters in Sioux Falls tonight.

There are also seven coolers of beverages, 18 pizzas, two relish trays, three boxes of cookies and a whole lot of coffee.

It’s going to be a long night.

This is the nerve center of the Associated Press coverage for South and North Dakota on election night. They’ll be taking calls from precincts in 119 counties, compiling the information and sending it to newspapers and broadcast stations every half hour.

At about 9:30 p.m. a staffer reports trouble in Davison Country to bureau chief Tena Haraldson.

A vote counting machine has broken. Mitchell and surrounding towns will not be able to begin counting votes until a replacement chip arrives from Omaha, Neb. at 1:30 a.m.

Five minutes later, Mike Rounds steps up to the podium on one of the four TVs in the writer’s suite to make his victory speech.

An AP reporter in a yellow, collared shirt puts a microcassette recorder next to the TV to record Rounds’ speech as another reporter wheels his chair back, grabs a remote and records Sen. Tom Daschle’s response on another TV. They’ll need the quotes for stories they’ll update throughout the night.

Republican Party Headquarters 10:45 p.m.

With 53 percent of the vote to Herseth’s 46 percent, William Janklow takes the stage to give his victory speech. In his speech Janklow emphasizes his commitment to protecting the United States from terror and safeguarding equality and education. As he leaves the stage and descends into a full ballroom of jubilant supporters, reporters pin the newly-elected congressman against the wall for comment.

Democratic Party Headquarters 10:50 p.m.

Janklow’s acceptance speech is blared on the big screen TVs. A passing Democrat comments, “It’s not a good night.”

A party staffer replaces a “South Dakota First” sign on the main stage podium with one promoting Stephanie Herseth. Supporters joust for positions close to the stage and wait for Herseth’s concession speech. Chants of support ripple through the crowd.

11:05 p.m.

The Democratic crowd erupts into cheers as “Eye of the Tiger” pipes loudly over the sound system. Herseth’s family members and major campaigners file onstage hand in hand.

“I believe we ran a campaign that truly respects South Dakota’s values,” she says, mostly composed. She thanks her “tough and classy” campaign team and the younger voters.

12:15 a.m.

The polls have long since closed.

It’s been a daunting night for the Democratic supporters, having already heard concession speeches from Abbott and Herseth. At last check, Johnson is ahead of Thune by just one percentage point. It will still be an hour before Davison county can even begin calling in their votes, which amount to about 3 percent of South Dakota’s overall vote tally.

12:40 a.m.

With 82 percent of precincts reporting, Thune has pulled ahead by one percentage point. Rumors are circulating that both Davison and Brookings counties have yet to call in their tallies.

1:46 a.m.

Thune is ahead by roughly 3,100 votes. The chip from

Omaha will be arriving in Davison County in mere

minutes, but projected repair time could be as much as two hours.

2:05 a.m.

A Thune representative takes the stage at the Republican party headquarters. He informs the remaining supporters that Thune is going to call it a night and try to get some rest. He urges them to do the same. “We’ll celebrate tomorrow,” he says.

2:15 a.m.

Davison and Shannon county votes are still not in. Suffering nationally in this election, a few die-hard Democratic supporters stand fast at their headquarters, holding on to the possibility of a Johnson win. The outcome of the race will not affect control of the Senate, but has become largely symbolic to Democratic supporters.

2:42 a.m.

Johnson staffers call it a night as well and the Democratic stragglers are cleared out of the party headquarters.