Elections

The Red Wave That Wasn’t: How Democrats and Republicans Partied on Election Night in Phoenix

Democrats and Republicans partied in very different ways on election night as they gathered to watch a trickle of voting results.
Democrats and Republicans partied in very different ways on election night as they gathered to watch a trickle of voting results. Katya Schwenk
When Election Day wrapped up in Arizona, the candidates did what they always do — shuffled off to parties to join supporters, watch results trickle in, and celebrate their victories.

Sometimes the evenings get wild.

But this week, as the expected red wave of Republican wins failed to materialize, and vote counting dragged on just like we said it would, Democrats at a downtown Phoenix hotel turned jubilant and Republicans at a Scottsdale resort were grumpy.

“This is bullshit,” a middle-aged woman said as she waited in line at the GOP watch party. “If we can’t know the results, can I at least get a fucking drink?”

Here are six takeaways from our time at the election night parties on Tuesday.
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Katie Hobbs told Democrats on Tuesday that "we are feeling good" about early election results.
Katya Schwenk

A Jubilant — and Surprised — Atmosphere for Democrats

The election night party for Arizona Democrats was a different affair than the one hosted by state Republicans. Staffers, lobbyists, union leaders, and politicians gathered in a ballroom at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Phoenix. CNN played on two massive screens. The room was drenched in blue lights.

The party’s most high-profile candidates took the stage, in between network news reports and booming reggaeton and pop tunes: Adrian Fontes, candidate for secretary of state; Kris Mayes, who is vying for attorney general; gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs; and U.S. Representative Ruben Gallego, who coasted to re-election and was the only candidate whose race was decided on Tuesday.

As the polls closed, more people filtered in, and more drinks were had, the party grew energized. After all, the very first results looked good for Democrats.

That would change.

“We have seen the first results come in, and we are feeling good about what we are seeing,” Hobbs told the crowd to resounding applause.

Hobbs spoke about 8:30 p.m., and the first batch of ballots had been counted. The results looked promising for Hobbs and other Democratic contenders, which was expected. These early totals were largely the results from mail-in ballots, which lean Democratic compared with GOP-heavy same-day voting. But still, Hobbs was up significantly. The first batch of results from Maricopa County had her at 58 percent to opponent Kari Lake’s 42 percent.

Other Democrats enjoyed higher margins. U.S. Senator Mark Kelly, who opted for an event in Tucson instead of attending the Phoenix party, was up 59 percent to Blake Masters’ 39 in the first batch of Maricopa County votes released.

Paired with promising Democratic results nationwide that had begun to trickle in, bucking predictions of a “red wave” of Republican victories in the midterms, the early results seemed hopeful. The energized crowd waved signs and cheered loudly whenever a new win was broadcast on the screens. A man dressed in a light-up eagle costume stopped for delighted selfie-takers. Even Hobbs, who addressed the crowd for less than two minutes, seemed more at ease than usual.

It was a jubilant atmosphere — but also slightly surprising. Multiple lobbyists and other campaign workers attending told Phoenix New Times, in confidence, that they had anticipated a grim night for Democrats in Arizona and elsewhere. “First drop in Arizona is looking way better than I expected,” Gallego tweeted at 8:45 p.m.

The attendees knew the races would get closer. “These races, they’re going to be tight. We know that,” Raquel Terán, chair of the Arizona Democratic Party, told the crowd. The question many people wondered: How long would the leads hold?
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Adrian Fontes offered this message to supporters: “Let us celebrate democracy."
Katya Schwenk

No Media Circus to Be Found

By some estimates, more than 300 journalists attended the Arizona GOP election night party. The relationship is symbiotic in a sense: Major national columnists got lurid dispatches from the event, and the politicians pointed fingers at the “fake news” in the back of the room.

At the Renaissance, the media circus was wholly absent. Various TV channels were stationed at the back of the room, and reporters mingled in the crowd, but there were fewer journalists than at the Republican soiree. The Democrats, it seemed, were judged to be far less of a spectacle.

Still, the relationship between Democrats and the press was a little frosty at the party.

Gallego, in his animated speech later in the night, called out the media for its coverage of the Arizona races, and the “red tsunami” that Lake and other Republican contenders promised was arriving. He frequently borrowed former President Barack Obama’s 2008 “yes we can” campaign slogan, and promised a blue victory.

“When the pundits, and when every journalist, thought that Arizona would turn red in 2022, we said nah,” he told the cheering crowd. “We’re the Arizona Democratic Party, and yes we can.”

It’s still unclear if the pundits were wrong on that count. By the morning, margins in the races were far slimmer. Many of the most high-profile races may not be decided until Thursday or Friday.

But Democrats hoped for an underdog narrative to counter the Republicans’ spectacle. “The Republican candidates may have been catering to the extremists and sharing the stage with Steve Bannon,” Terán said. “But what we were doing was knocking on doors and connecting with voters.”
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Democrats watched election results on Tuesday at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Phoenix.
Katya Schwenk

Dems Focus on Democracy

If there was a clear narrative to be gleaned from candidates who spoke Tuesday night, it was democracy. None of the candidates focused on the economy, climate, or immigration. Reproductive rights was hardly mentioned at the victory party despite its prominence in the election.

“Every single vote matters, and every single vote counts equally,” Hobbs told the crowd. She bashed Lake — “my opponent” — for “sowing doubt and confusion throughout this campaign.”

Fontes, who spoke shortly after Hobbs, offered a similar message. “Let us celebrate democracy,” he said. “Let us also remember that regardless of the results, we have good people working right now all across Arizona to make sure that we preserve and protect democracy.”

The narrative ran counter to that of the Republicans, who have pushed claims of voter fraud throughout the race and continued that at their election party on Tuesday. Widespread issues with Maricopa County’s ballot tabulators on Election Day only deepened the distrust many GOP voters felt in their elections.

Voting rights were indeed top of mind for some Democratic voters on Tuesday. Some who spoke to New Times said they turned out to oppose GOP propositions that would impact ballot initiatives and voting.

Candidates echoed this concern, at least vaguely — and urged patience as the results rolled in. “I know that we’re all eager to find out who won these incredibly important races,” Hobbs said. “But we need to be patient and wait for every single vote to be counted.”

— Katya Schwenk
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Republicans mocked their opponents and said President Joe Biden had a “very dirty diaper.”
Elias Weiss

Republicans Hosted a Crappy High School Prom

It was supposed to be a massive celebration. It ended up more like a crappy high school prom. With booze.

Arizona Republicans from the top of the ticket to the bottom united at a posh Scottsdale resort on Tuesday to celebrate a collective victory that never materialized. When the evening came to a premature end, a clump of patriotic balloons was still corralled in a giant net on the ceiling. Republican wins never materialized, and the string to set the balloons loose was never tugged.

Republicans gathered at the Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch, a choice that meant sacrificing logistics in favor of clout. Parking lots at the resort were full hours before the event was set to start. Even media arriving 90 minutes early were turned away, as a hotel employee dressed in a snappy three-piece suit stood in the middle of the road and apologized profusely: “I’m so sorry. We were supposed to have enough media parking.”

McLarens and Lamborghinis comprised the valet queue, likely owned by VIP ticketholders who shelled out $1,000 a pop for a better seat to watch Kari Lake, the GOP contender for governor, delivered her brief half-concession speech. The people who paid just $20 for general admission were sent to an off-site soccer pitch miles away and rode to the resort on buses.

Women in Louboutin pumps and men in tuxedos stood in the grass waiting for the bus to arrive as children played a soccer game just a few yards away. It smacked of a high school affair. Especially given the food offering inside the soiree — piles of pepperoni pizza.

Arizona Republicans were joined on stage by serial plagiarist and Turning Point USA staffer Benny Johnson. “By attending this event, you have increased your chance of an FBI raid by about 50 percent,” he said.

The slate of Republican hopefuls prayed to God for victory, but soon after, event organizers quietly switched off the Fox News broadcast that had been playing on large screens inside the ballroom and outside in the courtyard. Early election results showed all four up-ticket Republicans losing in double-digits.
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Kari Lake complained about the “cheaters and crooks” she alleged were trying to steal the election.
Elias Weiss

Playground Insults Were Encouraged

“Do you feel like surfing?” far-right U.S. Representative Paul Gosar, who ran unopposed in his re-election bid to ​​Arizona's 9th congressional district, asked the crowd. “Because this is a red tide coming in.”

But the tide never came. The event was slated to run until the wee hours of the morning, with promises to continue operating the shuttle bus until 3 a.m. By 10:30 p.m., the once-packed crowd had dwindled down to a husk of its former size. Despite the best efforts to hide it, there was no secret that Democrats at this point on election night were outperforming low expectations in Arizona and in Senate races nationwide.

The exodus began after Lake, trailing Democrat Katie Hobbs by nearly 16 points at the time, arrived on stage and announced, “We will take the victory when it comes.”

It’s the same technique she employed after the primary election in August, when she declared victory during another nutty Election Night affair while down six points. She ended up squeaking out a victory.

Lake told the crowd to boo the journalists who were there, continuing her Election Day attacks on the media. The crowd obliged. She lobbed insults and whined about the “cheaters and crooks” and the “incompetent people running the show in Arizona” who were to blame for all the “BS and garbage.”

The crowd’s energy evaporated as the election results continued to favor Democrats.

“This is bullshit,” a middle-aged woman said as she stood in line for the cash-only bar. “If we can’t know the results, can I at least get a fucking drink?”

Another woman leaning against a cocktail table spoke frustratedly about Christian Lamar, a far-right candidate for state House who’s currently in last place of three candidates. “I hate that asshole, but I voted for him. Better than that Democrat bitch.”

It was an insult-flinging bonanza. Speakers made fun of incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Kelly, a “little man” wearing a “stinky green jacket” whose “ears don’t match.”

They said that Texas gubernatorial candidate “Beto O’Rourke is a furry” and that U.S. Attorney General “Merrick Garland needs some new pantyhose.” President Joe Biden, they said, has a “very dirty diaper.”
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Republican voters at the Arizona GOP watch party on Election Night said they wanted to "party like it's 1776."
Elias Weiss

They Sold the Skin Before They Caught the Bear

It was an angry celebration, and Republicans doubled down after it was over.

“I want to thank the people of Arizona for entrusting me with this great responsibility,” GOP nominee for attorney general Abe Hamadeh tweeted as he declared victory just after the party. “I will never forget who I’m fighting for.”

On Thursday morning, with nearly 70 percent of precincts reporting, Hamadeh is losing by nearly 8,000 votes and Lake is losing by about 17,000 votes.

After more than one-third of voting machines in Maricopa County had problems tabulating ballots on Election Day, there are hundreds of thousands of votes left to be counted — even now, days after the polls closed.

That has Lake supporters fretting.

“I’m concerned about the delays, especially when you factor in the blatant conflict of interest with Katie Hobbs being the secretary of state, making her the official overseeing an election that she’s a candidate in,” Phoenix voter Kyle Conklin told New Times.

“Add in three or four RINOs and one Democrat with the Maricopa County supervisors who appear to hate non-establishment candidates and anyone who questions them, and it can lead to reasonable concerns regarding what’s really going on,” Conklin said. “Is it incompetence or malice? Neither is a good look. If everything is on the level, I expect Kari Lake to win. Each delay fuels uncertainty and distrust in the system.”

— Elias Weiss
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Katya Schwenk is a staff writer for Phoenix New Times. Originally from Burlington, Vermont, she now covers issues ranging from policing to far-right politics here in Phoenix. She has worked as a breaking news correspondent in Rabat, Morocco, for Morocco World News, a government technology reporter for Scoop News Group in Washington, D.C., and a local reporter in Vermont for VTDigger. Her freelance work has been published in Business Insider, the Intercept, and the American Prospect, among other places.
Contact: Katya Schwenk
Elias Weiss is a staff writer at the Phoenix New Times. A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, he reported first for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and was editor of the Chatham Star-Tribune in Southern Virginia, where he covered politics and law. In 2020, the Virginia Press Association awarded him first place in the categories of Government Writing and Breaking News Writing for non-daily newspapers statewide.
Contact: Elias Weiss

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