Democrats entering the Historic Ashland Armory on Tuesday night didn't know if they were attending a victory party or a wake.
By 8:14 p.m., when Ohio was called for President Barack Obama, their fears disappeared into drawn-out cheers and a standing ovation that morphed into group hugs, high-fives and New Year's Eve-style kisses.
One minute later, a jubilant Joyce Ellis walked out of the Armory's Great Hall clutching her heart. "The announcement happened just in time," said the Rogue Valley Manor resident who came in one of two buses with 45 of her neighbors. "We had to board the bus back to the Manor at 8:15 p.m. no matter what."
Sweet victories seemed to greet supporters of the Jackson County Democratic Party, who paid $65 each to attend Election Night Celebration, less formally known as Blue Bash 2012. Tickets — all 281 — sold out quickly, with nine of the 20 tables occupied by seniors living at the Manor or Mountain Meadows retirement communities.
Many partygoers had time to talk to state Sen. Alan Bates, D-Medford, who paced the lobby much of the time. At 7:15 p.m., he said, "I'm getting happier. I think we will hold the Senate, pick up seats in the House and it will be close, but President Obama will win."
When he addressed the crowd, he asked the people who volunteered for the Democratic Party to stand up. About half did.
To most of the people attending Blue Bash, the evening was the end of long weeks of crossing fingers, manning phone banks and stirring up votes. About an hour after the doors to the Armory opened, a frantic woman showed up asking if she could vote there. A group directed her to the Ashland library drop off.
Overhearing the conversation, Jeff Scroggin, vying for county commissioner, reported that he saw "tons" of people waiting to drop their vote off at that site. "I hope she's patient," he said.
Throughout the evening, national news coverage was shown on two 10-foot-wide screens. The Blue Bash committee held a vote earlier to decide which channel would be broadcast. In the end, commentators on Southern Oregon Public Television, MSNBC and NBC delivered waves of good news to the waiting Democrats.
Sitting at a table near the stage, phone bank volunteer Sharon Javna said, "Every battleground state is going Obama's way."
When a lifesize cardboard cutout of Obama was brought onto the stage after the Ohio announcement, Javna said to seatmates: "The only thing left is to pop champagne."
Republican Alan DeBoer, who owns the Historic Ashland Armory and was running for Ashland mayor, had his campaign signs removed from around the Armory grounds before renting it to the Democrats. He then spent the evening at home with his wife, watching election results.
"We crossed the aisle to work with some suppliers," joked Blue Bash party organizer Eliza Kauder, sporting an Obama T-shirt and button.
County Democrat fundraiser Chairwoman Arlene Rogers hoped to raise more than $8,500 from the dinner and by selling $10 raffle tickets. One attendee won time playing poker, eating pizza and talking politics with Rep. Peter Buckley and former Jackson County Commissioner Dave Gilmour. The listed value: "Priceless"
After the Manor residents departed, other supporters stayed glued to their seats. Victor and Eileen Chieco were counting on their fingers the Democrats' wins that made them "thrilled and elated," said Victor Chieco. Eileen Chieco said they would remain at the party until Obama gave a speech or his Electoral College number hit 300.
At 9:15 p.m, as Democrats across the United States were receiving an email from President Obama thanking them for their support, people were leaving the Armory holding onto their keepsake Blue Bash 2012 program.
In between sighs of relief, a few noticed a sentence printed inside the program: "The election process doesn't end on Presidential Election Day, it just begins another cycle."
Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or firstname.lastname@example.org