Stress and disappointment gave way to jubilation at the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) of Los Angeles' election night party as President George W. Bush piled up the electoral votes and turned the map of the United States Republican red.
The mood was far more somber at the Manhattan Beach Marriot, where Democrats gathered for a victory party that never took place. By early morning, the crowd had dwindled to a handful of true believers who looked stunned by Sen. John F. Kerry's disappointing performance.
Things got off to a slow start at RJC's event at Level One supper club on Wilshire Boulevard. A sense of foreboding filled the crowd of 250 Republicans as early exit polls showed Kerry in the lead.
A dispirited Allen Jacobs, 27, said he felt nervous, anxious and worried. Frustrated by the early results, he attacked newly registered young Democrats as "uneducated voters who do whatever Puffy says," an allusion to rapper Sean "P. Diddy" Combs' efforts to get out the vote.
But like a cyclone that suddenly shifts directions, momentum quickly swung the Jewish Republicans' way. Fox announced that Bush held a 5 percentage point lead over Kerry in Florida with 95 percent of the vote in. Men and women let out shrieks of joy, quickly forgetting about Pennsylvania. All eyes focused on Ohio, the do-or-die state for both Bush and Kerry.
Well-groomed 20-somethings clad in black, reeking of tobacco and wine, sat side by side with rich bankers and middle-aged fallen liberals who said they had never voted Republican until now.
RJC Southern California Director Larry Greenfield smiled as he surveyed the diverse crowd of Bush supporters. He said the high turnout for the festivities reflected the political realignment now taking place among traditionally Democratic Jews. Simply put: he said the Democrats had lurched too far to the left and the Republicans had become the party of liberty and stalwart support for Israel.
"Our movement is growing, and the Jewish conversation is broadening," said Greenfield, who participated in 40 debates around the Southland before the election.
Early Los Angeles Times exit polls confirmed this trend: In California, 80 percent of Jews voted for Kerry and 20 percent voted for Bush, compared to 2000, when 81 percent voted for Gore and 15 percent voted for Bush.
In Manhattan Beach, a dark mood permeated the ballroom. Beth Matenko, a Jewish Canadian immigrant who hopes to become a U.S. citizen and vote, said she thought Jews had helped the conservative president win re-election.
"A lot of Jewish voters are voting for Bush. It's obvious," she said.
Back at Level One, pandemonium broke out at 9:45 p.m. when Fox projected Bush the winner in Ohio.
Jay Hoffman, a 52-year-old retiree from Los Angeles, broke into a wide smile. Around him, friends and family hugged one another.
"I think it helps Jews everywhere to have access to the Republican Party," he said. "Democrats can no longer take the Jewish vote for granted."
A number of RJC revelers said they had often voted Democratic in the past, but no more. They said they changed their allegiance because Bush exhibited the strong leadership needed to successfully prosecute the war on terror. Equally important, they said he understood the folly of dealing with Yasser Arafat, a terrorist not welcome in the Bush White House.
Shirley Darvish, a 24-year-old independent, said she disagreed with the president on most social issues. For the Beverly Hills mortgage banker, foreign policy trumps domestic policy in the post-Sept. 11 world. In her view, Kerry worried too much about keeping on good terms with America's allies and not enough about identifying U.S. interests and pursuing them.
"I don't want somebody whose going to bow down to the U.N.," said Darvish, alluding to Kerry's promise to work closely with the international body. "I want somebody who will make the big decisions, regardless of what other countries think."
Lifelong Democrat Susan Rabin said she's a new GOP convert. An entertainment lawyer who marched against the war in Vietnam in the '60s, Rabin said her transformation from a Mill Valley liberal to ardent Bush supporter began after Sept. 11.
Stunned by the viciousness of radical Islam, she said her friends' reaction to the terror attacks shocked her nearly as much. Rabin's progressive pals said U.S. policies and an unflagging support for anti-Palestinian Israel had provoked the tragedy. From then on, Rabin said she considered herself a liberal no more.
"They were blaming the victim," she said. "I couldn't stand that they weren't being supportive of our country and Israel. I was completely turned off."
David Finnigan and Tom Tugend contributed to this report.
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