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They come to cheer the winners, whoever they might be. 

Party Politics

It is election night. Two downtown ballrooms swirl with noisy, nervous politicos and buzzy, sign-waving volunteers. The Richmond Marriott is for Democrats. The Omni Richmond Hotel is for Republicans. The goal: to support the candidates with a heightened state of obnoxious, glorious enthusiasm.

I, however, am somewhere else.

Just west of downtown, in a dim and spacious Fan bar, there is a gathering of a different sort. Inside the Main Street Beer Company there is an election-night party for the in-betweens, the undeclareds and the publicly neutrals. They love politics. But they prefer to wear just their oval "I voted" stickers and leave the party labels somewhere else.

They're here to celebrate the election results, if not necessarily the results of the election. If Democrats were Pepsi and Republicans were Coke, most of these guests would be the un-colas.

By 8:30, the diehard political partisans have come and gone, heading for the hoopla downtown. Now there is an even-keeled group of 20 or so, mingling in an area near the windows.

Standing 6 feet 2 inches tall, Rob Jones is the man behind this party. A former attorney, Jones is president of Political1.com, a Richmond-based business that aims to publish online information about state government and politics for all 50 states. Jones, 35, has happy eyes and wears a mustache and goatee. He is drinking Studley Brown Ale.

Last year, he says, he noticed a dearth of bipartisan festivities for people to celebrate election returns. So he started one. It was the presidential election, and it — and the party — turned out to be a doozy. This year, the party's back, even if the election is less eventful.

"Everyone has holiday parties," Jones says. "Ours is Election Day."

There are no balloons, no crepe paper, no live bands and no coat checks. But there is a table of bar-style hors d'oeuvres: crackers and crab dip, chips and salsa. Pasta salad is untouched. A stainless-steel warmer contains only the remnants of something fried, but the chicken wings in another warmer are good, notes party attendant Chip O'Brien, a public-finance executive for SunTrust. He is the banker for Political1.com and is running a bar tab for several people.

Televisions are tuned to election coverage, kinda: On Channel 6, "JAG" is on with the sound muted. TV reporters occasionally pop up to make brief election updates.

Irene Cimino, a petite, bubbly senior media-relations rep for Dominion, says she heard the local networks kept their election coverage minimal because they spent so much money on uninterrupted coverage of Sept. 11. So the political junkies have been relegated to watching the crawl on the bottom of the TV screen where numbers pop up from time to time.

Veteran lobbyist L. Ray Ashworth casts a glance upward, trying to make out some returns on the television, but the numbers are obscured by words. "Why have they got that stupid quote over that?" he bellows.

"It's closed-captioned," Cimino explains.

The results come in at a steady pace. Winners and losers emerge.

"I don't have any political affiliation," says Matt Shenk, an account exec for a local high-tech company. A lean, polite 25-year-old with trendy glasses, wide grin and prominent Adam's apple, Shenk has finished work, hit the gym and dressed up again, stationing himself at a table of twenty-somethings.

He found out about the party because he works in an office near Political1.com. But he uses the Web site, too, he says — this year, he used it to help him decide who would get his vote. "I wanted to vote with an open mind rather than one party," Shenk explains. "I don't take for granted, I guess, being a citizen in the United States."

Jerry Kilgore wins the election for attorney general. Cimino is on a cell phone with her husband, who volunteered for Kilgore's campaign and had dropped her off on the way to the Omni. "Jerry just made his speech?" she says into the phone. "It wasn't even on TV!" Instead, Mark Earley appears on the muted television, giving a concession speech. His lips move, but no one in the bar hears him.

By now, anyway, the election seems ancillary. The twenty-somethings are discussing other things: jobs, the city, alcohol. Peter DuMont, the 23-year-old Web master for Political1, is riffing on the way beer tastes. Why, he asks rhetorically, do people drink it? "It's a product of state-dependent learning," he answers himself, and orders a grasshopper. At another table, talk turns to negative advertising, the economy and guitar playing.

It's 10:06. Warner has won. It seems almost anticlimactic.

Daniel G. "Bud" Oakey, president of LeClair Ryan Oakey, the lobbying arm of the Richmond-based law firm LeClair Ryan, is hitting the tail end of the party. Wearing a suit and tie, he leans back in his chair. He sighs. "I'm going to go visit Republicans in need," he says. The party's just about
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