Margaret Anderson Kelliher's anti-climactic 'victory' party [UPDATED]
Photo: Nick Vlcek Kelliher wouldn't give up the fight, despite what the polls said.
Update: Margaret Anderson Kelliher conceded defeat to Mark Dayton late this morning. "In Minnesota we value every person's voice and count every person's vote. And that's what happened this election," she said in a statement. Kelliher also endorsed Dayton.
As Margaret Anderson Kelliher supporters filed into Jax Cafe in Northeast Minneapolis Tuesday evening, the as-it-happened polling reports projected on the overhead screen seemed to show Kelliher had taken a commanding lead out of the gate. Just after 8:30 p.m., with about 130,000 votes tallied, Kelliher led her DFL opponent Mark Dayton by 12 percent. Matt Entenza had barely left the starting line.
"Welcome to the DFL victory party," announced House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisolm.
It's been a long haul since the DFL convention in March, where Kelliher won the party endorsement. Since Kelliher has no personal fortune to fund her campaign, she's relied on mostly the work of volunteer staffers. Campaign staffers have put in countless hours door-knocking and cold-calling voters. It must have only seemed natural when it looked like their efforts had paid off.
An optimistic Sen. Amy Klobuchar took the stage to address what had become a full room. "I know it's early," said Klobuchar, "but I believe in good signs, and these numbers are looking good."
No one seemed to doubt it. When Kelliher's nearest competitor trailed in the double-digits, the most pressing topic of conversation was the buffet, which received largely rave reviews from those willing to wait in line. Occasionally someone started a "Margaret" chant and the crowd erupted in cheers. The drinks were flowing. It was as if they had already won.
But as the night went on, the polling results showed Dayton slowly creeping up.
Sen. Al Franken jokingly offered the first words of caution. "Now, we have to wait," Franken warned the crowd. "It's not a good idea to claim victory early."
The joke earned big laughs from the still-rowdy crowd. But by 10 p.m., it wasn't really funny anymore. Kelliher's lead over Dayton narrowed to less thant 5 percent. The mood grew visibly more glum as quiet crowds gathered around the screen to watch what had become a neck-and-neck race.
"Oh God, I hope Mark Dayton doesn't take this thing," groaned one nervous Kelliher supporter.
Around 12:20 a.m., the bad news was spreading quickly: The Associated Press had called it for Dayton. Everyone gathered in front of the podium, as if waiting for someone to come out and tell them that it wasn't true.
Kelliher emerged for the first time all night and addressed the lingering audience. The question on everyone's mind was obvious: Was Kelliher about to concede to Dayton?
"Thank you so much for being here," she began, seemingly bubbling with excitement despite the circumstances. "It's been a long night, and it's going to be an even longer night. There are still some numbers to come in and we're optimistic about that."
Sertich then told everyone the party was over. After almost five hours of waiting and watching the polls, that was the best we were going to get.