Shock Dawns for College Democrats

Donald Trump’s unexpected presidential victory left some students reeling.

Image of College Democrats watch party
GW College Democrats watch election results showing a more and more certain Trump presidency. (GW Today/William Atkins)
November 09, 2016

By Ruth Steinhardt

Tuesday night began as a party for the George Washington University College Democrats.

The Grand Ballroom on the third floor of the Marvin Center—where the organization held its election night watch party for the final hours of the presidential contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump—was packed to capacity. Students exiting the ballroom had to receive stamps on the back of their hands in order to re-enter. Late arrivals were shuttled to the almost equally packed Continental Ballroom next door.

“It’s like the hottest club in D.C.,” said one student in wonder, laughing.

Inside, students laughed and hugged, posed for photos with life-sized cardboard cutouts of Clinton, Barack Obama and other Democratic politicians. A projection screen stretching from the ballroom ceiling almost to the floor played CNN as the results rolled in.

“This feels like the result of a lot of years and work and struggle,” said College Democrats President Lande Watson, bright-eyed in a blue sweater adorned with an American flag.

Like many others in the room, Ms. Watson had spent recent weeks knocking doors and making phone calls for Hillary Clinton. She had even spent Election Day phone banking for the candidate in between classes.

“Whenever I’ve felt anxious, I’ve just worked,” she said. “I don’t know what I’ll do now. I guess I’ll take up knitting or something.”

The overwhelming atmosphere was one of well-earned celebration.

“I think it’s going to be a big night,” said junior Levi Debose, the organization’s vice president of communications, smiling broadly.

The Democrats had reason to be optimistic. Polls had predicted a moderate to landslide Clinton victory. Even Mr. Debose’s home state of Texas, a Republican stalwart in presidential elections since 1976, briefly showed blue on the electoral map. The cheers when it did were deafening. Mr. Debose leapt into the air.

But as the night wore on, it became clear that polls had not predicted the chaotic Trump effect. Spirits began to flag.

Texas went back to its expected red and stayed that way. High Latino turnout in early voting had suggested good news for Clinton in Florida, but polls showed a more and more significant lead for Trump there. Virginia, which many had considered a safe Clinton victory, hovered in the balance for an unexpected hour before being called for her.

And the key states of Pennsylvania and North Carolina, where the College Democrats organized large-scale trips in recent months to register voters and get out the vote, seemed more and more likely to fall to Trump.

By 10:30, the mood was still optimistic, but subdued.

“I’m anxious,” admitted junior Asha McCorvey, a longtime Hillary Clinton supporter.

She considers it so important for opposing political sides to hear each other’s points of view that, as a high school student, she joined both the Republican and Democratic student associations. But the Trump phenomenon has been more difficult for her to absorb.

“Donald Trump speaks to a large part of the country, and that’s very confusing for me,” she said.

By midnight, there was little room for doubt. There would be no triumphant march to the White House—and no first female president. Donald Trump would be the next president of the United States.

That was the world Lande Watson woke up to on Wednesday.

“I’m feeling tired, as I think a lot of students are,” she said. “It was a late night, and people worked hard.”

So what’s next?

“There’s going to be a very strong shared understanding that we have an incredible amount of work to do in the next four years,” she said. “I 100 percent believe in everyone that I work with, and everyone I go to school with, and I believe in their ability to fight for the things that matter to us.”

 

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