Amid a Devastating National Defeat, Arizona Democrats Console Themselves With Local Victories

There goes everything we've worked for during the last eight years.

I'm scared for my Muslim friends.

I'm scared for my undocumented friends.

I'm scared for my gay, lesbian, and transgender friends, for my black friends, for my Hispanic friends.

I'm scared for all women.

I'm scared about climate change.

I'm scared for the billions of people on this earth.

These were just some of the things New Times overheard last night at the Democratic Party gathering in downtown Phoenix.

There were tears, hugs, long sighs, and looks of outright bafflement. Many said they figured Donald Trump would win Arizona. But nationally?

"What is this shit?" one woman muttered under her breath as CNN, which was being broadcast on two big screens in the room, demonstrated a potential path to victory for Trump.

The night hadn't begun this way.

Shortly after 6 p.m., as the crowd swelled inside the Renaissance Hotel ballroom, the mood was jubilant. People milled about, some wearing political T-shirts and pins, others with a beer or glass of wine in hand. Everyone was smiling, confident about what the pollsters and national media had been saying about an inevitable win for Hillary Clinton.

More and more people began watching the CNN broadcast as the results trickled in. Sure, Trump is pulling ahead, but it's early, people whispered to their friends.

"And California's not in yet, right?" one woman said.

By 7 p.m., the line at the bar was curling back on itself in the small lobby outside the main room. The scarce amount of standing space near the big TV screens was getting hot as people packed in to get a glimpse of the results.

"I'm hoping to see change [in Arizona]," said Mark Heisler, an attendee. "I know Arizona is traditionally red, but … I think it will go blue."

Heisler wasn't alone in this feeling. The room was still cautiously optimistic, as if everyone was collectively thinking, "Wait, this can't really happen. Trump can't really become president, right?"

When CNN called New York for Clinton, the room erupted in applause. Twenty-nine electoral votes for their candidate. A few minutes later, when it looked as though Clinton was ahead in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Colorado, there were more cheers.
By 7:30, the ballroom was packed. There was a palpable, nervous excitement in the air when Frank Camacho, communications director for the Arizona Democratic Party, took the stage.

"Did the marijuana deal pass? Because I think we might need some," Camacho joked. The comment wasn't really funny, but it seemed as if people needed to laugh.

"Can you believe these results?" he continued. A few people booed. "You can boo," he added, at which point the audience erupted in a loud, cathartic boo.

Camacho told the room to prepare for "one heck of a night," adding that he truly did believe the country would elect its first woman president.

"And closer to home, we're going to bring an end to the travesty that is Joe Arpaio. We're primed to win some votes that Democrats [in Arizona] have never won before."

He spoke for a few more minutes, clearly trying to pump up a crowd that was quickly deflating in optimism as state after state across the country tabulated and reported its results. Camacho ended on what on any other night would have been a monumental victory but on this night felt like only a minor one: the passage of Proposition 206, the ballot measure to increase the minimum wage.
As they would with the night's other local victories — and there were quite a few — many in attendance told New Times it was hard to reconcile the successes with what was increasingly looking like a Trump win on the national level.

"Locally, it's amazing how well Arizona is doing and how victorious we are," said David Korteum, a retired schoolteacher. But as for the national results, "No matter how much logic you use, I can't explain it."

The one break in the growing gloom came when the party announced that Paul Penzone was poised to defeat incumbent Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was seeking a seventh term. While many expected the highlight of the evening to be a Clinton triumph nationally, it turned out to be Arpaio's demise.

"For all those victims that were subject to Joe Arpaio, tonight is your night," Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Gallardo told the cheering crowd. "We have a new sheriff in Maricopa County."
The gleeful sentiment was short-lived.

"We've made some big strides. We're no longer the Chicago Cubs of politics," Camacho said to muted applause. It was 10 p.m. and looking more and more like the world would wake up to President-Elect Trump the next day.

People were glued to the TV screens, watching the anchors zoom in and out of random counties in Wisconsin as if this were the most important sight they'd beheld all year.

Within the next hour, the crowd fizzled, both in energy and in size. It was hard to watch some of the local victors like Adrian Fontes, who beat Helen Purcell for county recorder, and Tom O'Halleran, who beat Paul Babeu in CD 1, and not feel a little bad for them. They were excited, they had triumphed, but the room wasn't feeling it.

"This feels like a hollow victory," Andrew Young, 25, said. "It's good that the sheriff lost, but he and Trump are buddies."

"I have to agree, it's one step forward and two steps back," Young's friend, Zac Adams, 24, interjected. "Donald Trump is a friend of Joe Arpaio. It's going to be elevated and there's a chance it going to get worse."

That was a prospect New Times heard from many in the room — including fellow journalists — as people feared Trump would appoint Arpaio "Deporter in Chief" or some other cabinet position.

This is just so depressing, one woman said. "It's hard to imagine there are that many dumb people in America."

By 10:30, at least a few people in the room were crying. Many more were shaking their heads in disbelief as the electoral college tally flashed on the screen. 
"This is literally the worst night of my entire life," a crying ASU freshman told New Times, declining to have her name published because of her affiliation with the Democratic Party.

The young woman said she has friends and family who will be targeted by Trump. "Knowing that I have to look these people in the eye and know that so many people in the this country don't care about them, I don't know what to do with myself. Yes, there was always this opponent running against our candidate, but someone who is so hateful and bigoted — so many people think regression is the only way to make this country great," she trailed off, wiping away tears.

She remembers when George W. Bush won in 2000, and then again in 2004, and says that in the past, even when the Democrats lost, it never felt like the end of the world. But this — "This is just literally the worst night of my life," she repeated.

She said she'd be spending election night in a friend's dorm room because at least one of her three roommates is a Trump supporter, and she couldn't face being in the same space as her.

Nearby, another young man in a button-down shirt and tie and holding beer, spewed profanities and fumed about Democratic losses in the house and senate.

"You know what I'm excited for? Gay-fucking-conversion therapy," he said. "This just fucking sucks. Republicans don't care about liberties."

By 11 o'clock, most of the guests were gone. Those who remained stood or sat solemnly; most watched the results trickle in, others hugged or quietly shook their heads.

Arpaio was gone. Purcell was likely gone. Babeu was defeated. The Dems picked up a few seats in the state legislature, and Prop 206 passed — but none of it seemed to matter much when compared to the looming shadow of a Trump presidency.

At midnight, the room was nearly empty. When the Clinton campaign announced that the vanquished candidate would address the nation the following day, most of those who had held out decided to pack it in.

"What just happened?" one woman said to another as they left the ballroom.

"I don't know," her companion replied.
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Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser