Given the grim predictions, it’s not surprising that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Election Night soiree seemed a relatively subdued affair. (At least, that’s how it seemed from the tiny, roped-off press pen at the back of the room where they cordoned off reporters for the 15 minutes we were allowed inside the room.) The organization, charged with electing Democrats to the House, is expected to sustain heavy losses throughout the night, and its leader, Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, sidestepped the awkwardness of acknowledging the party’s plight by addressing the assembled crowd before the defeats begin piling up.
Shortly before 8pm, Van Hollen, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took a makeshift stage in the Liaison Hotel on Capitol Hill. Standing before a row of eight American flags set against black curtains, they thanked the party’s volunteers, praised the Democrats’ ground game, and doled out platitudes. “As we speak, voters are proving the pundits wrong–the pundits who said our voters wouldn’t turn out,” Van Hollen said. He praised President Obama as well as the army of Democrats involved in the Get Out the Vote effort, and stressed the clear choice between the parties. “We cannot go back to the same failed policies that got us into this mess,” he said. Hoyer read from a similar script, though his promise that the party would be “listening closely to voters” may have been a tacit acknowledgment that the party would be receiving a bracing message.
When it was her turn to speak, Pelosi received a rousing ovation. The first female House Speaker could decide to retire if the party loses its majority, but her brief remarks hardly had the feel of an elegy. Instead, Pelosi delivered a truncated stump speech that largely ignored the figurative elephant in the room. She charged that Republicans want to privatize Medicaid and Social Security, again thanked Democratic volunteers (“the guardians of our democracy”), urged the revitalization of America’s manufacturing sector and noted that voters across America, not the pundits in Washington, would decide the election. “We are not going back to the failed policies of the past,” she promised. “Let’s go out there and continue to fight for great Democratic victories.”
This particular fight is nearly over. Even if the party’s House leaders are still predicting they’ll maintain their majority–with polls on the West Coast still open for hours, it’s likely they felt it too was too early in the night to admit defeat–the stump speech felt hollow. The trio bounded off the stage to Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best” — which made me think of David Brent’s own bizarre motivational speech, in the British Office — leaving the young crowd to sip their drinks in the modest reception room. By the time Pelosi left the room, the last television in the room had already been switched off.