They arrived wearing their red, white, and Hillary Clinton finest: sweaters with their candidate’s name woven into the nap, custom painted “Nasty Woman” leather jackets, yards of sequins that reflected the excitement felt all around. The supporters who came to New York City’s Javits Convention Center were ready for a party on Election Night.
Unfortunately, the party never happened.
Actress Debra Messing had on comfy-looking bright red sneakers — she was in it for the long haul. Scores of young women wore “staff” badges — though many of them were volunteers. Two little girls showed up with their family wearing “Madam President” buttons and with their faces painted red and blue; bravehearts indeed.
With some early Tuesday predictors estimating that Clinton had upwards of an 85 percent chance to become the first female U.S. President, it seemed likely there was an equal chance of showers from the confetti cannons stationed on either side of the main floor where the Democratic candidate was expected to speak.
Two days earlier, the venue was mostly quiet, save for some campaign staff handing out press credentials. I showed up late in the afternoon on Sunday, and with the shift to daylight savings time (really? An extra hour of this election?) the windowed convention center near the Hudson River was aglow in the sunset. It was impossible to miss the symbolism: That was some big glass ceiling.
By 6 p.m. on Tuesday, blocks of 11th Avenue were cordoned off by police and filled with Clinton fans who would be treated to a show by Katy Perry, and speeches from local Democrats. In between acts, election returns came up on the big screens stationed around the space and outdoors. Connecticut goes for Clinton: Cheers! New Mexico: Cheers!
Having taken to heart the “Don’t boo—vote!” directive from President Obama, there was little in the way of jeering when Donald Trump voters turned a state red; instead it just got quiet. Kentucky. Georgia. Indiana. No big deal, people reminded one another, those are usually Republican states. Here, let’s take a selfie with Mayor Bill DeBlasio in the background.
Then Virginia, Tim Kaine’s home state, was teetering. (It eventually went blue.) And Florida. And people began having the Florida flashbacks: “It reminds me a lot of Gore-Bush,” said a woman from the Virgin Islands. “We all went to bed that night thinking Gore had won and woke up and Bush had won. So I’m not giving up hope.”
Her friend, wearing a ‘HillYeah’ button on her hat, added, “I think we thought she would have been ahead more at this stage.”
Small groups gathered around the TV monitors in the basement cafeteria. There was a run on pasta and beer.
“It is definitely nerve-wracking,” said a supporter from Connecticut, smiling insistently. Moments before she had told me, “The energy is fantastic,” and she seemed to be sticking to that. Her friend wasn’t so sure. Maybe they should think about driving home? “I want to see history being made and I’m afraid if I leave I’ll regret it if she does win.”
The night wore on. The cafeteria closed. The beer bottles emptied, the starchy comfort food consumed. The TV monitors continued to bleed red. The young women volunteers were rotating in and out of the ladies’ room, eyes red.
The faithful were trying to hold on to hope, but it wasn’t easy.
A New York supporter whose daughter was about the age of these campaign workers told me, “My heart is hanging on every word here. I’m on the verge of tears. I’m so upset right now. I have a 20-year-old daughter in college, and I just feel if he gets to be president … It’s all over. It’s just … nothing.”
A rumor circulated after midnight that the venue had to be cleared out by 2 a.m. Suddenly it was after 1 a.m., and the dais remained empty. The crowds were still, well, crowded. And they did what crowds do: They huddled, goofed for the cameras when turned on them, and sang along to the piped-in music.
By 1:30 a.m. or so, two things happened: we began to hear that Secretary Clinton would not speak tonight, but instead would send campaign chairman John Podesta, as at least three states were still too close to call.
The PA system blared what is usually a party-pleaser: Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” On the screen the crowd saw itself reflected, and gamely joined in with Steve Perry’s vocals: “Don’t stop believing, hold on to that fe-eee-lin’. ” Was anyone else thinking about what these words mean? Did anyone else feel that this was as final as the Sopranos finale that had used the song before cutting to black?
Though the big screens, still on closed circuit, didn’t announce it in the moment, Pennsylvania was called for Trump, effectively giving him the win. Podesta took the stage, told us all to go home and get some sleep. There would be more in the morning.
And there was: About eight hours later, the candidate finally spoke. But the party was over, and her supporters — many more than had been at that windowed convention center — gathered in our shared virtual space to hear the first woman to win the popular vote for United States president offer her apologies for not winning the election. “This is not the outcome we wanted or we worked so hard for,” said Sec. Clinton. “And I’m sorry we did not win this election for the values we share and the vision we hold for our country.”
No, this was not the outcome that those who had traveled to the Javits Center had wanted.
I listened to the worries, and tears, and frustrations of supporters as they filed out into the New York City night, past a street vendor with a keen market sense selling Hillary T-shirts marked down to $5. I didn’t hear anyone asking for their candidate’s apology. There were practical matters to attend to: Would Uber be able to get through the police barricades? Is the subway okay to take at 3 a.m.?
I took a last look at the building, still lit, and that glass ceiling still frustratingly untouched.