Expat Democrats in Berlin crushed by election disaster | US presidential elections 2016: What do I need to know? | DW | 09.11.2016
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US elections 2016

Expat Democrats in Berlin crushed by election disaster

Confident supporters of Hillary Clinton in the German capital turned out to celebrate, but ultimately had nothing to cheer. Donald Trump’s upset win spoiled the party and left expat Democrats utterly speechless.

The crowd of expats who packed the Democrats Abroad election night party in Berlin to watch live election coverage by American broadcaster CNN was conspicuously young and conspicuously female. There had been much talk about apathy among so-called millennials in this campaign, but you wouldn't have known that in the German capital.

Nonetheless, as the first results began trickling in, these Democratic supporters were nervous.

"I have an okay feeling but I don't want to be overconfident because I was here for the Brexit results, and anything can happen, of course," said Anna, 24, a Fullbright scholar from Kansas. "My feeling is that goodness and inclusivity will prevail, but we have to be prepared for anything."

The anxiety seemed particularly acute among voters from swing states.

"We have a lot of rural communities, and they are very right-wing, very Republican,” said Lauren, 24, a demographics expert from North Carolina. "I think it will be difficult to say what will happen in the end and how people choose to vote. "

She and her friend Jordan, from Florida, put Hillary Clinton's chances of winning at somewhere between 52 and 60 percent.

Organizers of the event were feeling considerably more confident. Democrats Abroad in Berlin press official Powen Shiah said that he was 80 to 90 percent certain that the evening would end in a victory for Clinton.

"In 2016, we've helped something like 120,000 worldwide register to vote - that's roughly double what we did in previous years," Shiah said. "I think they will be a lot of ups and downs, but that's part of the fun of an election night."

A nerve-wracking contest

A disappointed crowd at a Democrats Abroad election party in Berlin

Things went from bad to worse for Democrats

As the night progressed and the lead swung back and forth between Clinton and Donald Trump in Florida and North Carolina, Lauren and Jordan were put through the wringer.

"At this point it doesn't look all that bad," Jordan said crossing her fingers very firmly. "I'm trying to stay calm, but it's really difficult."

Michael, 50, from Washington, had manned the merchandising table, which included T-shirts from John Kerry's losing campaign in 2004. He was now having a glass of red wine and keeping the faith.

"I haven't seen anything yet that would change my mind that Clinton is going win," he said. "Even if Trump takes Florida, I think she'll still prevail."

Hilary, 36, from Minnesota, who was decked out in a sash reading "Votes for Women," said she had never doubted that her namesake would win and was unusually conciliatory toward the other side.

"I've been 100 percent confident this whole year," she said. "I actually don't have a problem with people who vote for Trump. I do have a problem with those millions of Americans who didn't vote."

Democrats were cheered by unexpected early leads for their candidate in North Carolina and Ohio. But many nails were still being bitten, as Trump initially ran much stronger than expected in Virginia - considered a safe Clinton state.

The Republican then built up leads in a number of key states, including Florida. People in the hall knew that urban, traditionally Democratic districts sometimes report later than rural Republican ones. The big question was: would there be enough votes left for Clinton to close the gap?

Trump results kill the mood

People sleeping on the floor at a Democrats Abroad election night party

Some people slept on the floor as the night wore on

Between 3 and 4 a.m. the atmosphere was almost completely deflated, as nearly all of the news coming in favored Trump. More than half of the crowd elected to leave. Now manning the door, Shiah was visibly slumping in his seat.

"I don't know what to say," he said. "I'm just sick of watching TV."

Some of those who did hold out were hitting the bar.

"It's so depressing," said one man who preferred not to be identified. "Ever since that little shift in Florida, it's all been downhill."

Things went from bad to worse for those in attendance when Trump was called the winner in Ohio. The news that Clinton had pulled ahead in Virginia and Pennsylvania drew only a smattering of applause.

"I'm in too much of an emotional state," said Jordan, when asked if she thought Clinton could still win. "No comment."

Supporter Hilary was still clinging to hope, but was already looking to the future.

"Whichever way it goes, the country is going to be divided," she said. "That's not going to end after this election."

The nightmare scenario draws nigh

A Clinton supporter wears a sash reading 'Votes for Women'

There was no joy for this Hillary supporter

When North Carolina was called for Trump, audible groans went up from the roughly 60 people still in the hall. Volunteers, some who seemed near tears, began clearing empty beer bottles and wine glasses from the tables.

CNN moderators Wolf Blitzer and John King continued to discuss hypothetical situations in which Clinton could win, but hardly anyone believed in a last-ditch Democratic comeback, particularly as Trump claimed Florida and maintained leads in the usual Democratic strongholds of Michigan and Wisconsin.

There was even brief applause, when a TV pundit pointed out that many Democrats felt that rival Bernie Sanders, whom Clinton defeated in the primaries, would have made a better candidate. You could hear a pin drop, however, when Trump pulled ahead of Clinton in Pennsylvania.

As the sun began to rise, most of the organizers and volunteers had left, exhausted. Only around 20 people remained to witness Trump close out his surprise victory.

No one was in a talkative mood. And it was hard to blame anyone for that. These mostly young expat Democrats had come to celebrate the election of the first female president of the United States. What they got was a president-elect Donald Trump.