Ken Cedeno / BLOOMBERG NEWS
Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Question on the Street
Election night has just begun, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is on the edge of his seat.
At a hotel suite not far from the Capitol, as Democrats are partying below, Reid is at the foot of the bed, staring at the TV.
Aides poke in and out of the room as he watches not only to see whether Sen. Barack Obama will be elected president but whether the Senate will gain enough Democrats to create a coveted 60-seat majority that could overcome Republican obstruction.
But it is too early in the night to make history.
So Reid talks on the phone with aides in Nevada, who update him on turnout in Clark County and northern Nevada. He asks about the weather in Elko.
Then the door bursts open.
“It’s a landslide!” Sen. Chuck Schumer declares, bounding in about 7:15 p.m.
“For Obama?” Reid asks.
“For Obama and us,” Schumer hollers.
Schumer, the bright, bold New Yorker, leads the party’s campaign efforts in the Senate. Reid aides call him “the human tornado.”
Schumer starts rattling off exit poll results for the Senate race in Minnesota, where comedian Al Franken is trying to unseat Republican Sen. Norm Coleman — one of nearly a dozen seats that could get Democrats to magic 60.
“Get out of here with those damn exit polls,” Reid waves his hand, shooing Schumer off. “John Kerry’s not president? He didn’t win?” It’s a reference to 2004, when exit polls wrongly forecast that Massachusetts Sen. Kerry would defeat President Bush.
Reid is anxious. He says he has been up counting senators as if he were counting sheep, lying awake at night going through the math.
There’s Jeanne Shaheen, the former governor of New Hampshire, trying to unseat Republican Sen. John Sununu; Kay Hagan, the state senator closing in on North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole. He recites them on his fingers. The list goes on.
He’s anxious “to get it over,” he says.
“I should get away from the TV.”
He heads into the main room. To another TV.
Not since 1977 have Democrats had 60 Senate seats. Not for 15 years at least have they approached anything like the majority they would achieve this night — not quite 60 seats, but close.
For the second consecutive election cycle, Democrats are picking up, rather than losing, seats in the Senate.
The country is shifting in ways that seemed unimaginable during the Bush years.
Reid and Schumer have been preparing, talking many times daily, for half the year. Reid won’t discuss what it would be like to lead a commanding majority, the way legendary Majority Leaders Mike Mansfield and Lyndon B. Johnson did.
The human tornado returns.
“So whatever it’s worth, the last round of exit polls were bad,” Schumer says as he storms into the room. He shrugs to no one in particular. “I had to get it off my chest.”
It’s after 8 p.m. They all leave to meet and greet donors down the hall.
While they’re out, the television sets announce that Pennsylvania is called for Obama. Shaheen takes New Hampshire. Hagan takes North Carolina.
A few minutes later, Reid returns, “Anything new?”
Aides scramble to fill him in.
“Who declared Shaheen a winner?” The aides name the news outlets. “Wow.”
Everyone seems to be breathing better.
So it goes through the night. Visitors drop by — union guys, family members, another senator. Reid calls actor John Cusack (a Democratic supporter), Nevada aides, senators and governors winning their reelections
By about 9 p.m., the New Mexico results come in, and Democratic Rep. Tom Udall wins the open Republican seat.
Reid walks by the TV and gives it a thumbs up. He gets Udall on the line. “Hey, Tom! It’s going to be a pleasure to work with you.”
He passes the phone to Schumer. “You’re the greatest, baby,” Schumer says.
Shaheen appears on TV, talking to supporters, and Reid returns to the foot of the bed.
“I worried about that one so much,” he said. “Didn’t she look good?”
A short while later, the fifth Democratic senate candidate, Rep. Mark Udall of Colorado, won that state’s open seat.
The night was still young.