Republican Headquarters: inside the belly of a dying beast
By Matt Snyders via phone
We're here at the Sheraton-Bloomington, where hundreds of well-dressed conservatives have gathered to witness a miracle. Their man, McCain, smells like a corpse, but senatorial candidate Norm Coleman and congressional candidate Michelle Bachmann and Erik Paulson are very much alive. For those present, the elephant may be injured, but it ain't dead... yet.
8:23 pm: We arrive inside a billion-square-foot ballroom in which two giant-screen TVs loom in the corners. One is tuned to Fox News, the other, CNN. In the middle, a monstrous American flag hangs behind an empty stage. On the floor, people stand in isolated circles, three to five to a group, and try to joke and laugh with one another. Few succeed.
8:35 pm: A young Coleman volunteer complains to her friend: "There are just too many Obamians out there."
9:04 pm: Fox shows Bachmann and Paulsen retaining slight leads. Scattered applause ripples through the crowd.
9:20 pm: Paulsen emerges onto the ballroom floor, engulfed in orange-placard-waving followers. He hops onto a media platform in the back for a live TV interview. His disciples lurk behind and shake their signs in an apparent attempt to distract TV viewers from Paulsen's banality.
9:34 pm: Down in the lobby, robo-Barbie Michelle Bachmann appears. Cameras descent and shine light into her mascara-caked visage. "We're feeling good," she tells us. "But we know it's going to be close." Her mouth is smiling as she says this, but her eyes are frightened.
10:18 pm: The previously raucous bar down in the lobby suddenly grows quiet. John McCain is on screen. Time for the concession speech. During his address more than a few barfles tear up. His speech was accomplished; he did a good job attempting to rally his supporters around Obama in the wake of his defeat. But it was like the real McCain showed up too late.
10:27 pm: With McCain's speech still in progress, back in the ballroom we spot recent Timberwolves acquisition Mark Madsen ambling through the crowd. Wait. Mark Madsen is a Republican! Who knew? Answer: anyone who's ever seen him dance.
12:25 am: Coleman leads Franken by a mere 700,000 votes, or .14%. Even so, the Grand Ballroom is much emptier than it was an hour ago.
12:27 am: Word comes that DFL congressional challenger Ashwin Madia has given his concession speech. Paulsen proves victorious. The crowd goes apeshit. No one gets hurt.
12:35 am: The inimitable Michelle Bachmann takes the stage. We down our beer and brace for the worst. She proceeds to declare victory over Tinklenberg, naysayers, and common sense. "The youth of America is energized! And they're energized by the idea of freedom!" Everyone nods and plays along.
12:50 am: Paulsen takes stage. The orange placards gyrate even more ferociously than before.
1:00 am: The main event, Coleman vs. Franken, is still too close to call. Which sucks, because everyone wants to go home.
1:28 am: Downstairs, a bartender displays a talent often associated with his profession when he distills the nonsense into an easy-to-use aphorism: "Any way you slice it, we're still in for a long haul." It's unclear whether he's referring to the night's festivities or to the state of the nation. Either way, we'll drink to that.
2:12 am: Okay folks, that's a wrap. The Bratman vs. Joker race is still too close to call; reckon we're looking at a prolonged recount. Time to sleep this one off.
[Here, listen to this 16 years after the fact.]