PHOENIX — Some stood with arms crossed, anger etched on their faces. Others expressed disappointment, even fear. Still others wiped away tears and grumbled when Sen. John McCain congratulated his opponent, America’s first black president, for making history.
And it was clear on an election night like no other that the hard feelings of a hard-fought campaign would not fade anytime soon.
Jeri Mott, 58, of Tucson listened to McCain’s concession speech with her arms tightly crossed and a look of disgust on her face.
“I’m thinking that I’m real worried about what’s going to happen tomorrow, especially about my troops,” said Mott, whose son recently enlisted in the Army. As for the historic nature of the night, Mott didn’t much care.
“I have no problem with an African-American at the helm. It’s his vision of what he wants to do that I have a big problem with.”
Donna Petello and Jamie Gibbs, both of Gilbert, lingered at the Arizona Biltmore resort after the speech was given and the party ended.
“We’re feeling really sad,” said Petello, 53, who wore a hot pink button that said “Hot Chicks Vote Republican.”
“I wouldn’t say we’re angry,” said Gibbs, 50.
“Just sad,” Petello continued. “America made a big mistake and they’ll surely see that soon. But we can’t do anything about it.”
The night began appropriately enough with Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing” booming from the speakers at the Arizona resort where, 28 years ago, McCain and his wife, Cindy, celebrated their wedding.
Hundreds of supporters wore buttons and T-shirts proclaiming “Victory 2008,” chanted McCain’s name and, like the candidate they gathered to honor, projected optimism and faith.
But as the night wore on, organizers temporarily stopped broadcasting the returns overhead and announced few results, as if not to put a damper on the party. Those they did disclose lagged behind national projections showing Obama gaining on McCain.
Even after Obama had been declared the winner in Pennsylvania and Ohio, former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer walked on stage to tell the crowd about “another state in the McCain category. It’s the great state of Louisiana!”
But around 8:30 local time, U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., took to the stage to deliver what sounded like a eulogy to McCain’s quest for the presidency.
“The truth of the matter is it is uphill. This has always been an uphill race. Yet John McCain kept clawing back, he kept clawing back until tonight.” He applauded McCain’s “fighting spirit,” while still telling the crowd the race was too close to call.
One supporter muttered, “I’m feeling like doom is coming.”