The building was dark on Election night. From a distance, you could only see a faint glow from inside the Democratic Party headquarters, a series of lights bordering the perimeter of the outer courtyard and some timid gas heaters scattered around.
To enter, a party representative asked people if they had experienced symptoms of COVID-19. They had to register their name and telephone number to facilitate contact-tracing in later days in case of any spread.
In the courtyard, about 30 people were here and there, all wearing face masks. Some were standing next to the heaters; some were sitting on folding chairs, some on the grass. A giant American flag hung at the building entrance, CNN was projected on a wall and a speaker with KBIA tuned in rang out.
Results were at stake for at least six local races: Republicans against Democrats. Cheri Toalson Reisch vs. Jacque Sample vied for District 44, Chuck Basye vs. Adrian Plank for District 47 and Sara Walsh vs. Kari Chesney for District 50. For the Senate, incumbent Caleb Rowden faced Democrat Judy Baker. And for the Boone County Commission: Tristan Asbury vs. Janet Thompson; Fred Parry vs. Justin Aldred.
Between 8 and 10 p.m., nothing much happened. A paper sign at the building entrance indicated the restrooms and a press room, which was just an empty room that some used to charge their phones and others used to record video interviews with available candidates.
Baker, dressed in a black suit, greeted supporters, spoke to the press and stood around. She was the one with the most experience: She had already been a member of the state House from 2005 to 2009. After that, she unsuccessfully ran for Congress, lieutenant governor and state treasurer. Last night represented her latest run.
Sample paced the courtyard dressed in jeans and a light sweater. In contrast to Baker’s resume, the candidate for District 44 was a political newcomer.
Plank was running for his second try against Basye for District 47. Accompanied by his wife and daughter, Plank wore a black shirt despite the 53-degree weather that felt more intense because of the wind.
Another room — restricted to party members — looked like the war room that the candidates entered from time to time, leaving with a nervous and brooding air. KBIA hosts reported that Nicole Galloway had accepted her loss to incumbent Gov. Mike Parson and that the competition was close between Baker and Rowden for the state Senate.
But also, a few sparkles of joy. An emotional Aldred took the microphone to acknowledge his victory over Parry as the Boone County Southern District commissioner. Thompson won reelection to her seat as Boone County Northern District commissioner over Republican Asbury.
But these were the only happy moments for the candidates at the headquarters.
Around 11 p.m., standing by one of the heaters, Sample and Plank huddled together, talking quietly. Plank’s wife ran her hand over his back. By then, the Boone County clerk, with more than 90% of the votes counted, already signaled the Republican rivals’ clear advantage.
Baker was the one who spoke publicly. “We are not prevailing,” she said in front of the American flag.
“And, you know, I feel like we didn’t leave anything undone; we didn’t. We did all that we could do. And I can’t tell you what a privilege it has been to work with each and every one of you. All of the candidates who are here are the candidates who put their heart into everything.”
Then she urged supporters and candidates to return home and keep an eye on the national scene, without feeling disappointed.
“I never looked at myself as a politician,” Plank said in an interview. “I look at myself as a regular old fella just trying to make a living and make a difference. That’s what most people are trying to do. It’s too bad that we don’t have some more people representing that type.”
Sample put the night in perspective.
“I’m still working as an occupational therapist, so that will continue,” she said. “I’m still working in higher education, so that will continue. So, I’ll get up and go to work like everybody else. You know, that’s just life, we’ll just continue as it was precampaign.”
In an instant, organizers extinguished the heaters, collected the chairs, and turned off the few lights illuminating the patio. The projector was no longer on, and KBIA had stopped playing. On the terrace was a chair reserved for Baker that she never sat on. Inside the building, a lecturn that was never used said: “Boone County Democrats.”
The American flag was lowered from its place. And in the air hung the uncertainty of a presidential race that was yet to be defined.