On the Scene: Notes from a cliffhanger

On the Scene: Notes from a cliffhanger

By Emma Hall and Jacq Lacy

Although major news networks had called the U.S. House for the Republicans before John Kitzhaber's election night party at the Hilton Tuesday night had even started, attendees at the Democratic Party of Oregon celebration were in high spirits. Over 500 attendees gathered in the Grand Ballroom of the Portland Hilton to watch numerous television screens announcing the election results as ballots were counted. From sleepy toddlers to white-haired ladies sitting in the few seats available, attendees gathered from all around Oregon to celebrate victories and bemoan losses for Oregon's Democratic Party.

Congressman Earl Blumenauer spoke to the swelling crowd just after eight, congratulating volunteers for being out since 4 a.m.

"It's been a little tough for us nationally, I will admit," Blumenauer said. "But with your help, Oregon is going to be part of the firewall of the West." He went on to win his seat later in the evening.

Around 9 p.m., one hour after the polls had officially closed, with 58% of the vote counted, the Oregon gubernatorial election was in a dead heat. Early results showed 49% for both candidates — less than 4,000 votes put Democrat John Kitzhaber barely in the lead over Republican Chris Dudley. Over the next few hours, this number would fluctuate in each direction, but without either candidate gaining a strong lead. The race remained too close to call well into Wednesday morning.

Supporters gathered around a huge screen featuring a photo slideshow of Kitzhaber's campaign, updated to feature photos of President Obama endorsing Kitzhaber, as well as the sea of blue signs from the crowd at the recent Obama rally, which numbered upwards of 10,000.

Election night attendees cheered the clear wins for the Democratic Party, like for Rep. David Wu and State Treasurer Ted Wheeler, but they had little to cheer outside of Oregon and in the state legislature. Nationally, the Republicans picked up at least 60 House seats, and statewide they also gained significant ground. The latest numbers show that a whopping 79 percent of registered Republicans voted, compared to 74 percent of Democrats.

On the other side of the Willamette River, Republican Chris Dudley and his family remained in his suite at the Rose Garden while a crowd of about 250 followed the numbers. Many donors and supporters received special passes to watch the race in private rooms upstairs.

Republicans cheered late in the night as many states announced Republican wins, though some disheartened television watchers expressed sadness for Oregon Republican losses. Some shouted, "Don't give up Rob," referring to Rob Cornilles losing to David Wu, and "Kremer should have won," referring to Mary Kremer for Oregon Senate.

Supporters cheered numbers showing Dudley in the lead for the first time at 9:30, making the case that Dudley's goals parallel Oregon's economic needs as the state struggles with high unemployment and a sluggish economy.

Dudley supporter Michael James says that Dudley is watching out for the state's major industries. "Dudley understands business 101," James said.

Dudley remained out of sight until 11:15, accompanied by fans holding signs and climbing onto the stage with confidence. The former NBA player delivered a hopeful message and a promise of a Wednesday win.

"You run the numbers any which way, we're up now, we'll be up tomorrow," Dudley proclaimed to a cheering crowd.

Kitzhaber also predicted a win, and hearkened back to the close race Jeff Merkley experienced in 2008.

"He woke up the next morning a United States senator," Kitzhaber said. "So I expect the same thing is going to happen this evening."

One of the candidates will eventually be proven wrong, once the winner is announced in the closest race for governor in Oregon history.

As of 9 a.m. this morning, more than 150,000 ballots remained uncounted.

Emma Hall and Jacq Lacy are associate writers for Oregon Business.