Tear-stained faces and wrinkled, deliberately worn Kerry/Edwards campaign stickers reflected student disappointment with the outcome of the presidential election Wednesday. Meanwhile, the small but concentrated core of Bush supporters on campus reveled in Wednesday's confirmation that the 43rd president had captured a majority of the popular vote.
"I've been pretty depressed all day," said Caroline Buddenhagen, a third-year in the College and Kerry/Edwards campaign volunteer. "Friends are calling me as though there's been a death in the family, asking how I'm holding up. If I weren't so down it would be pretty funny."
She went to class Wednesday morning thinking Kerry still had a shot at the White House. But when she came back, all the networks were flashing "Bush wins re-election" across the bottom of the screen.
Buddenhagen said she was shocked that Bush won. "I simply didn't understand where all the votes for Bush had come from. I spent most of my time in the Democratic areas of Madison and Milwaukee, so I didn't have much sense of the Republican ground organization that proved to be so effective in other areas."
Not all Republicans on campus had time to celebrate fully. Chris Coordes, a fourth-year in the College who was elected fifth Ward Republican Committeeman last May, watched the results in the Shoreland ballroom while studying for a midterm. He had spent the day overseeing Hyde Park polling places and communicating with area election judges.
"I'm thrilled that President Bush won, but it didn't surprise me," Coordes said. " I'm glad we didn't have a repeat of the fiasco from the 2000 election. Bush had a lot of grassroots efforts to get out the conservative vote; Kerry tried to get out the vote at the last minute, but luckily Bush pulled through at the end."
Coordes also helped coordinate local Republican campaigns in the Hyde Park area and around Chicago. While he wasn't surprised by the turnout going overwhelmingly for Barack Obama, he said that it was upsetting for Illinois Republicans to see Democrat Melissa Bean defeat the 35-year Republican incumbent Rep. Phil Crane in the fourth District. "There was so much effort we put out for Representative Crane in the city," Coordes said.
With the Reg relatively empty for a school night during sixth week, many students watched the election returns at their favorite watering holes. Victor Vogt, who has served frosty beer at the Pub for the last 20 years, noted that business surged during the debates.
"It was pretty raucous," Vogt said. "The crowd was pretty pro-Kerry, yeah, the place was hot and heavy. The partisan orientation was pretty obvious."
Some Kerry supporters couldn't fathom how Bush won, but others were more understanding. Brian Fried spent the last two years working at a Washington D.C. policy group and began a doctoral program in political science this autumn. He was surprised by how much Bush's victory shocked campus. "I get the sense that UChicago and Hyde Park are in a political bubble, and the dominant view would rather label the majority of this country as dumb' or fundamentalist' than understand where they're coming from," he said.
Fried also said that the liberal bias on campus might keep conservatives from voicing their opinions. "The few students whom I've met that have conservative views on anything are only willing to discuss them privately. I guess I feel that the combination of growing up in Texas in a fairly Democratic family, college, and working at a conservative think-tank has given me some perspective on both sides."
For liberal activists, Kerry's loss was a major disappointment. But it was also an exercise in political organization that they hope will snowball into more grassroots involvement.
Daniel Biss, a post-doc in the math department who spearheaded organizational efforts for the Kerry/Edwards campaign in Wisconsin, was in Milwaukee when he heard Kerry and Edwards had scheduled a concession speech.
Biss said Bush's victory has greatly upset him. "I don't think the thought translates especially well into words, and certainly not into printable ones," he said.
But Biss insisted that even though Kerry lost, his activism was not for naught. He said people got involved to make a differenceand that the electoral outcome in Wisconsin was proof of the importance of activism. "Wisconsin couldn't have been won without the massive volunteer effort we had," he said, adding that a "large and effective organization" had been developed.
"On Wednesday, my email and voice mailboxes were clogged," Biss said. "Not with thank yous or goodbyes, but with requests for marching orders. Everyone wants to know what to do next. And we'll decide what to do, and then we'll do it, and we'll do it successfully this time. We'll win this country back. We have to."
With reporting by Joel Lanceta and Daniel Gilbert