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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Smiles, cheers, excitement – and some surprise – at Spokane County GOP election party

The polls told them it wouldn’t be close. It’s already decided. The election is in the bag.

Hillary Clinton will be the next president of the United States, they heard from media pundits.

But as states started to turn red on the screen and Donald Trump pulled ahead, the hundreds of Republican voters packed into the lavish ballroom of the Davenport Grand Hotel began to feel comfortable. Then they started to feel happy. Then they started to cheer.

“Ohio!” Sen. Michael Baumgartner shouted from the stage. “Ohio!”

As each state was called for Trump, Baumgartner, who was doubling as the evening’s emcee, would rush the stage and rally the people. They cheered, made fun of Democrats, and raised their fists and signs reading “Cathy McMorris Rodgers” in the air.

“I’m surprised,” said Jalissa Babinski of Trump’s performance, while resting in a chair in the corner. She’s 30 weeks pregnant with twin girls, and standing was starting to tire her out. “I thought the election was rigged.”

As is tradition in many cities and counties, the Spokane County Republican Party hosted an election night party to celebrate local, state and national Republican achievements. Most notably, they cheered Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ re-election to the House of Representatives – a position she’s held since 2005.

But rather than celebrate their congresswoman’s re-election, most people in the room had their eyes fixed on the large projectors on the both sides of the room – one on CNN, the other on Fox News.

They talked about the election, most with a drink of wine or beer in their hand, and their smiling faces lit up each time a state was called in Trump’s favor.

A topic that was nearly impossible not to come up was the huge lead many thought Clinton had going into Tuesday. Some in the crowd thought polls have always been skewed. Others hypothesized Trump supporters were just being sheepish.

A few Trump supporters, however, never trusted polls in the first place.

“Do you trust the polls?” asked Jennifer Graf. “I’ve never been polled. Who even comes up with them?”

Mike Mumford said he would have preferred Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz, mostly because he thinks Trump “is an idiot,” but voted for the Republican candidate anyway. He was interested in digging into the numbers in the future and taking a look at which demographics voted for Trump and why.

“It’s crazy,” he said. “It’s just amazing they were this wrong. It’s not a half point or a point. It’s three or four points.”

Ben DuBois, a 21-year-old student at Gonzaga University, said going into the election that he stayed on the “pessimistic side” of the possibility of a Trump victory, so as to not set expectations too high. Still, even he had to admit things were looking up.

“It’s looking much better than I expected,” he said.

In between Baumgartner calling out Republican states to the crowd, he invited Alex Dratch to do a handstand onstage. As a Russian immigrant who voted for the first time this year, Dratch decided to dress as Uncle Sam, complete with a striped hat and bow tie, to celebrate.

“Democrats – do you have someone who can do a handstand?” Baumgartner asked the crowd. “I didn’t think so.”

When it was finally time for McMorris Rodgers to take the stage at 8:30 p.m., the crowd gathered in the middle of the room. They cheered loudly when she talked about what a future term with her in Congress would look like. They cheered even louder when she talked about the government.

“After this election, there can be no question – Americans are unhappy with their government,” she said, pausing to let the crowd cheer. “This election changed the way neighbors talk to one other. I know people are angry with Congress, and with the federal government.”

After her speech, she took turns meeting eager crowd members – members such as Will Parks, who has voted for her every two years since 2004.

“I don’t know how she does it, but she even knows my name,” he said. “She’s the best.”

As the night wound down and the race continued to look “too close to call” – as many news outlets were reporting – the crowd continued to stand, talk, drink and remain confident.

But even still, most kept their eyes focused on the election map, specifically at the red numbers next to Trump’s name and the blue numbers next to Clinton’s.

Whatever the outcome of the election, nearly everyone was in agreement: The polls were dead wrong.

“I think we’re still learning to how to get polling right,” McMorris Rodgers said.

This story has been changed from its original version to correct Alex Dratch’s immigration status.