COLUMBIA — Travis and Kandis Hardin-James could have spent Tuesday night enjoying a romantic dinner and celebrating their second wedding anniversary all by themselves. Instead, they chose to attend an election night watch party at the Second Baptist Church, hosted by the NAACP.
“I’ve been a member of the NAACP since I was born,” Hardin-James said. “They put me down as a member when I was born.”
The Rev. George Coleman Sr. and his wife, Bobbie Coleman, made the same decision. They marked their 13th anniversary while watching results come in at the church.
“Ain’t nothing more important than this,” Bobbie Coleman said. “We went to dinner, celebrated, then came here, because it’s important to us.”
Hundreds of Columbia and Boone County residents flocked to watch parties on Tuesday night, participating in a tradition that's become a staple of election observances. Democratic and Republican candidates joined supporters all over town: The Blue Note, the Holiday Inn Executive Center, Broadway Brewery and Shakespeare's South.Ragtag Cinema invited the public to go there and watch the results roll in.
There's something about election night that makes folks want to gather. Project Open Vault even invited people to a virtual watch party online, where they could talk politics with Reynolds Journalism Institute editor Reuben Stern and a stable of local experts.
Second Baptist Church
About 40 people attended the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People party. Gathered around a large TV streaming MSNBC’s results, the group gathered for a homemade dinner, followed by a prayer vigil with six pastors and then drawings for gift cards for people who were at the vigil.
Moon McCrary was there. He said he first started playing closer attention to politics about five years ago, when then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama’s name began circulating as a viable presidential candidate. McCrary said he came to the watch party to share in the joy of the re-election he anticipated for Obama.
“We want to be around everybody,” McCrary said. “We all want to be together to celebrate a big win.”
Pastor Clyde Ruffin said it was the potential for excitement that brought him out. “I guess because it’s a close race,” Ruffin said. “A lot of drama.”
Velma Smith came to the church as well. She said the television networks manufacture some of the drama by intentionally keeping the projected electoral votes close.
“The ones Obama’s winning in, they keep saying it’s too close to call,” Smith said as the early projections were reported.
Smith moved to Columbia from St. Louis in July and came to the party with her new neighbor.
“She told me we’d have a nice time. This is my first time at a watch party," she said. "Last time, I didn’t go anywhere; I just stayed at home and watched it on TV. This is nice.”
Local and state NAACP president Mary Ratliff said although the night was fun, its main purpose was one of importance.
“If you don’t have any say in the political process, you’re lost,” Ratliff said. “And you can have a voice if you bring people together.”
Political enthusiasts drank beer and ate Uprise Bakery cupcakes at Ragtag while two theater screens displayed election coverage. Allison Reinhart, 27, fixed her gaze on an 18-by-7-foot screen featuring the Fox News broadcast. She said she dislikes the election coverage because of the news people.
"They're all just different flavors of crazy," she said.
Reinhart decided to come to Ragtag for her first watch party because she appreciates the easy-going environment and because it's a favorite hangout for friends.
In the adjacent theater, Megan Kelly, 18, sank into one of several black-leather, plush chairs that make the first two rows of the stadium-seating theater. Kelly, a freshman at MU, craned her head upward at a giant image of Anderson Cooper's face on CNN.
Kelly, an Ashland native who is studying international business at MU, voted for the first time Tuesday. She traveled 20 minutes back to Ashland with a car full of friends to cast her ballot. She called the experience both "exciting" and "anti-climatic."
The Blue Note
Democrats cheered every time a large projection of MSNBC anchorwoman Rachel Maddow announced that a member of their party had triumphed in a congressional race.
"It's nice to be around like-minded people," Christine Doerr, 53, said. "I feel safe here."
Tonight is Doerr's first watch party since having a daughter. Her daughter, now 17, made phone calls and knocked on doors on behalf of Claire McCaskill's re-election campaign.
At the bar, Eugene Greer drank a beer. A retired fish biologist, Greer volunteered for Obama in 2008 but now feels jaded about Obama increasing military action abroad. He said he voted for the Democratic incumbent but decided not to volunteer and instead remained a spectator this year.
"Whichever way it goes tonight, I'd like a beer," he said. "If it goes one way, I could use a few more beers. Hopefully it will go the right way." He paused, then corrected himself. "The left way."
Holiday Inn Executive Center
The stage in the front of the room had an American flag on the left and a Missouri flag to the right. The backdrop was full of Kurt Schaefer campaign banners and a sprinkling of Caleb Jones signs.
As guests began filing in, they discussed their excitement and the work they had done over the campaign season.
“We believe in our values," said Kevin Tutt, who attended the Republican party. "Conservative to me is moreso on the moral issues than the fiscal issues. I’m conservative both ways.
"I don’t like the way that either side just panders to one’s moral beliefs. That’s one thing I like about Mitt Romney is I believe he is going to follow through on his promises."
Tutt's 12-year-old daughter, Sara Tutt, attends Smithton Middle School and said she has been interested in politics almost her whole life. When she was 4, she waited at the Boone County Fairgrounds all day with her parents to meet former President George W. Bush.
She said she found herself in a frustrated state after Obama won a mock election at her school. "I was kind of frustrated because he hasn’t done very much to make our country better," she said.
While Sara might have been the youngest Republican in the room, Tom Mendenhall has enough experience for the both of them.
Mendenhall has been to five Republican National Conventions. He was the youngest Missouri delegate to the RNC in 1976 to cast a vote for Ronald Reagan. Mendenhall went back for the four subsequent conventions.
Locally, Mendenhall expressed his support for Schaefer. "Kurt Schaefer has done a lot of good things for Boone County,” he said.
At the next table, emotions were running high among members of the MU College Republicans. After working on various campaigns, they said they were hoping for a night of celebration despite realizing a bittersweet end to the campaign season.
Group members said they try to show support for all of their candidates by dispersing to as many watch parties as possible.
Social chairwoman Elizabeth Hughes said she enjoys going to a hotel or restaurant to watch the results because she has spent so much time at the Republican Party headquarters. She showed her spirit in a red scarf with a print of tiny elephant mascots.
“The candidates have shown us support throughout,” Hughes said. “They know us all by name and constantly show their appreciation. So we like to show our support for them. It’s a symbol of unity, and it's nice to settle down and hang out together after the campaign season.”
Alexa Henning, another member of the college Republicans, agreed.
“It’s nice to congregate together after a campaign season where we all worked separately.”
The Democrats took over the right side of Broadway Brewery on election night. Mary Still’s campaign brought out a lively bunch to watch the results come in. Campaign banners still decorated the walls, broken up by a hand-written one reading: “Pay Day Lenders Spent $50,000 Against Mary Still.”
Amid the noise of the crowd erupting into random applause, Still’s upbeat voice could be heard as she mingled.
“We were supposed to have 50 people, but there are way more than 50 here,” server Aaron Denner said.
“Because I think it would be nice to have a state senator that actually represents the welfare of the citizens of this district, I wanted to pay my respects to Mary Still,” lawyer Bob Schwartz said. He wore a pin reading: “Facts and Science Over Lies and Deception.”
Nathan Carter and his girlfriend, Alyson Germinder, were there for their first watch party. Carter volunteered for the Still campaign.
“I am excited to be here when Mary wins. It only happens once every couple years,“ Carter said.
"It means a lot to me to actually see the votes be counted and know that I was a part of something so big,” Germinder, a first-time voter, said.
Renee Powell was happy to be with people who support Still, who is a friend of hers. She also enjoyed being around people who understand politics.
“It’s nice to be with people that are more knowledgeable about the results than I am,” Powell said. “Hopefully we won’t need to, but it's nice to have people to console you if the results don’t go your way.”
Tom Wright, vice president of the Mizzou College Democrats, came out to support both the restaurant and the candidate.
“Broadway Brewery has been very supportive of the Democrats, and we wanted to show our support for the Democrats and the brewery,” Wright said.
Syed Ejaz, a member of Mizzou College Democrats, described the mood as spirited.
“What we see here is people having a good time that have reasons to keep their heads up,” Ejaz said. “It’s going to be a good night. We have many reasons to be optimistic, but we aren’t taking anything for granted.”
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.