Tuesday evening started out very well for local Republicans, as candidates for state and federal positions won handily and President Donald Trump was on his way to winning Florida.
“That’s what I hoped for, that’s what I voted for,” said Allan Stearns, who attended what would become a victory celebration for Patt Maney, an Okaloosa County Republican candidate for the Florida House of Representatives.
Election results: See the latest local results in the race for president
Stearns remained wary, though. He, like everyone else in the room, was well aware that many more states would have to be tallied before anyone could celebrate a Trump re-election.
“We have hopes for the best, but it’s going to come down to the states with the mail-in ballots,” he said, ticking off the key battlegrounds of Ohio, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
“We won’t have a result tonight and no one’s going to declare victory tonight, for sure, and I don’t think anyone will declare defeat, either,” he said.
Stearns’ caution proved prescient. By late afternoon Wednesday, it appeared Biden was on the verge of winning the election.
The GOP faithful were out and about all over Okaloosa County on Tuesday night, holding watch parties in Crestview, Destin and Fort Walton Beach. Local Democrats opted for a virtual watch party. They saw their county once again go big for Trump, who captured 78,857 votes in the county to Biden’s 33,494, according to unofficial results.
Supporters face off:Trump, Biden supporters in FWB stake out opposite corners of intersection
But just as Republicans weren’t ready to pop any champagne corks over Trump’s likely win in Florida, Democrats were not about to give up hope.
In a region where Democrats are heavily outnumbered, Jill Lewis, president of Okaloosa County’s Black Democratic caucus, saw reason for hope, and was particularly encouraged by Democrat congressional candidate Phil Ehr’s showing against incumbent U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz.
She said she was disappointed, though, that Trump was prepared to snatch away Florida’s 29 electoral votes.
“I think we always knew it was possible for Trump to win, but it’s not what we wanted to see. It’s a little disheartening,” she said. “But it’s not going to stop the momentum towards holding people accountable.”
Lewis said she was confident Biden ultimately could defeat Trump. And she said she wants to know “people voted on issues, and put themselves outside of their own lives.”
Emil Pagliari, who also was at Maney’s watch party, said he was “excited, very excited” about the state House election, and added, “I sure hope Trump wins.”
“I think statewide we’re doing quite well,” Republican Bill Byerley said of Trump’s ultimate Florida victory. “As far as national, it’s still anybody’s guess.”
For Will Armstrong, Trump’s quick start to a long night of counting votes was encouraging.
“I hope it translates to a strong finish,” he said.
Trump, who polls showed to be running behind his opponent going into the election, held his own through a long Tuesday night of ballot counting, but his grip on the presidency seemed to be slipping as Wednesday morning dawned.
When leads in Wisconsin and Michigan disappeared and with Biden clinging to advantages in Nevada and Arizona, the former vice president seemed to have opened what pundits called “a clear path to victory.”
By 3:30 p.m., CNN had declared Wisconsin and Michigan had gone to Biden, and if he could hold leads in Arizona and Nevada, then Biden, who held a popular vote lead of about 3 million, would reach the 270 electoral college votes needed to win the presidency.
Democrat John Whitley, who wrote on Facebook that he “went to bed devastated, but woke up hopeful” said he was surprised and disappointed that the still ongoing election was as close as it was.
“I’m disappointed that so many people thought things were going well in the U.S. and wanted to continue with Trump’s policies and recklessness,” he said. “If Biden is declared the winner, hopefully we can pull this country back together, but with the election as close as it was, and with the behavior of some Trump supporters, I don’t have much hope.”
Jeff Hinkle, chairman of the Okaloosa County Republican Executive Committee, said the election results “illustrate the harsh division that has grown in the country over the last 12 years.”
“The federal government does not live within the bounds that the founders intended, and as such we are no longer free to live diverse and different lives while coming together for trade and mutual defense,” Hinkle said. “It has devolved to which group gets to cram their values down the other’s throat. It’s unfortunate.”
Mark Franks, mayor of Shalimar and former chairman of the Okaloosa County Republican Executive Committee, said he, like others, had questions about the presidential vote count.
“I feel frustration. Watching last night, everything was going along and then it seemed to come to an abrupt stop. Why weren’t they counting through the night?” he asked.
Franks added that he was proud that Florida had come out for Trump and that the state’s election had gone as smoothly as it had.
Friends, this isn’t the time to be complacent. If you are ready to fight for the soul of this nation, you can start by donating to elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris by clicking the button below.
Thank you so much for supporting Joe Biden’s Presidential campaign.