Local Democrats cheered by election results
Republicans say they will start regrouping immediately
Local Democrats often choose eclectic, intimate eateries for their election night parties. That’s not too surprising, considering the demographics of Butte County and the fate of their candidates in the past few gubernatorial and presidential elections.
Tuesday night was different. They gathered in the Sierra Nevada Big Room, which they packed with 400-some people. A huge projection TV screen on stage and the Big Room’s sound system were put to good use. The champagne flowed like Celebration Ale, and vice versa. Every table was decorated with red, white and blue hats, flags, and pins prophetically decreeing “Yes, we did!”
The crowd was eclectic, multiracial, multiethnic—reflective of Barack Obama’s “new America,” which they learned was the new reality. A cheer erupted just after 8 p.m., mere seconds after the polls closed, when CNN announced Obama’s historic victory. Soon, a localized version of Will.I.Am’s “Yes We Can” video stoked the celebration; then the video switched to CNN’s coverage of the rally in Chicago’s Grant Park.
“I’m on top of the world,” beamed Joe Person Sr., who had rallied the local troops as part of Chico for Obama. “We’re going to see many, many changes in our country—and the world. We can bring the world together.”
Unity, it turned out, was the unifying message of the night.
“The Democratic headquarters [in downtown Chico] helped me regain my faith in politics,” said Cymandé Jackson, taking a break from dancing with fellow Dems and a life-sized poster of Obama. “Obama is going to bring a sense of community back. If we want change, it’s up to us.”
Jackson, who works for Women’s Health Specialists, was riding a “crazy high” after the presidential announcement, but held her breath for a proposition that hit close to home for her at work: Prop 4.
While the presidential race produced a quickly called winner, local and state results trickled in through the middle of the night. In fact, much of what the early numbers showed wound up reversed, such as the parental-notification measure tracked by Jackson. Prop 4 led in early returns—mail-in voting, predominantly by Republicans—but wound up defeated.
Chico City Council candidates experienced the same roller coaster. The first batch of ballot counts released by Registrar Candace Grubbs showed conservative incumbent Larry Wahl first, moderate-liberal challenger Jim Walker second and conservative challenger Mark Sorensen third, with Vice Mayor Ann Schwab slightly ahead of Mayor Andy Holcombe—her fellow Big Room party-goer—for the fourth and final seat.
After midnight, when all precincts had reported, the order was Schwab (14.94 percent), Holcombe (14.92), Walker (14.72) and, by just 328 votes, Wahl (13.88) over Sorensen, who lost by less than 100 votes in 2006.
Incumbents didn’t fare well in Oroville, where former Fire Chief Dave Pittman (19.46), former City Councilman Allen “J.R.” Simpson (16.61) and Planning Commissioner Thil-Chan Wilcox (13.72) took the top three spots, though Chan-Wilcox held just a 55-vote edge over Steve Harvey. Councilmen Jack Berry, Jim Prouty and Mike Howard finished well out of the running.
In Paradise, Robin Huffman was the only incumbent to fall, in part perhaps because she was the lone incumbent not listed as such on the ballot. Mayor Alan White (19.87) and Councilman Steve “Woody” Culleton handily won re-election, with Joe DiDuca (16.11) a solid third and Huffman (13.4) fifth.
With final absentee and provisional votes to count, Grubbs said more than 91,000 of the county’s 122,000 registered voters cast a ballot—roughly 75 percent participation, above the early national estimates. She expected “a last-minute rush” on the polls in student neighborhoods, but “I think a lot of people, especially those who are computer-literate, knew the presidential race was called.”
Evidenced by the big celebration at the Big Room.
As the crowd awaited Obama’s victory speech, Ali Sarsour (seventh out of eight for Chico City Council) got on stage and started leading a chant: “Barack Hussein Obama, Barack Hussein Obama!” A Palestinian-American, Sarsour seemed to want to remind everyone of Obama’s Arabic middle name.
When Obama did appear on the TV screen, with his wife and children, the crowd in the Big Room erupted in cheers, waving signs and yelling. It was as if they were extensions of the crowd in Chicago. When that group started chanting “Yes we can,” so did the Chico group.
Afterward, Bob Mulholland and Jane Dolan—the first couple of local Democratic politics—took the stage and spoke. Dolan praised the campaign workers and volunteers, noting voter registration efforts had added 5,000 new Democrats to the rolls in Chico alone. Mike Hawkins, who did a lot of that voter registration, said the local party had “hundreds of volunteers” during the weeks leading up to the election who’d manned phone banks, walked neighborhoods putting up door hangers and driven people to the polls.
Local Republicans gathered, as per tradition, at the Chico Holiday Inn. The rain that started to fall shortly before 8 p.m. seemed to forebode what the Grand Old Partiers already knew: This was not going to be a good election for them.
Still, despite watching McCain concede his loss (amid cries of “No!"), the group of 50 or so supporters—including victorious state Assembly candidate Dan Logue and Congressman Wally Herger, as well as Larry Wahl, Mark Sorensen, fellow City Council challenger Joe Valente and Chico State Republicans—were slightly cheery.
They milled around tables and clustered near the computer on which “refresh” kept being hit. The group of mostly older folks and a few young-uns chewed on pot stickers, fruit and bagel chips while chatting or watching one of many TV screens showing Obama.
“There is a certain amount of devastation felt by Republicans,” said Mike Antolock, 47, a longtime GOP member who has attended these parties for years.
Devastation aside, Logue said this is going to be a “rebirth” for Republicans. He spoke out around 10 p.m., when local results were still preliminary, calling for another “Reagan revolution” and saying the next 24 months will be “different.”
Said Antolock, “This is where Republicans start to come back.”
Katie Booth, Meredith J. Cooper and Robert Speer contributed to this report.