"That was tough," said Audrey Gelman, a 25-year-old organizer for "hipster" PAC Downtown 4 Democracy, to a handsome and packed ballroom last night at the Jane Hotel on the western edge of lower Manhattan. The 100 or so guests had gathered to watch the first presidential debate in cool company under the banner D4D, which in association with Vice planned a soiree that included a before-and-after D.J. set. But no one danced — it wasn't that kind of party, especially after Obama got pummeled. "That was proof that you can never underestimate the Republican party, as confident as progressives feel this year," Gelman told the semi-stunned room immediately after the debate. "Which is why we need you to truly get involved."
The evening started out with verve. As the space — adorned with velvet couches, animal prints, and a stationary disco ball larger than the dim chandeliers — filled up, hopes were high and the only political variety apparent was in outfit and accessory choice: an Obama tote bag; an Obama basketball tank top; an Obama off-the-shoulder sweater. A $25 ticket earned anyone access to free honey-flavored vodka and $8 beers, while a $250 donation secured "VIP seating" and a "swag bag," featuring treats from Momofoku Milk Bar, Opening Ceremony, and Phillip Lim. (The funds go toward D4D's aim of beating "The Tea Party 10" in districts across the country, with more parties and a canvasing mission to Pennsylvania planned for later this month.)
But a tepid applause for Obama's closing remarks (and silence for Romney's) betrayed some dissatisfaction with the main event. "I was hoping for Romney to fall on his face," admitted Julie, a 25-year-old retail assistant. "I was disappointed he didn't flop. I was hoping for embarrassment or failure, but I'm still pretty optimistic."
"People talk about politics not being a spectator sport, but it was cool to be somewhere having a beer and watching this as if it were a sporting event. And it was more consequential than a sporting event," said The Office star B.J. Novak at the bar afterwards, unfazed by a pretty clear home-team defeat. But of the Jane crowd's reservedness, he joked, "Jim Lehrer was very specific about no cheering."
"The challenge is to absorb the blows and to double-down on our commitment to stay involved and enthusiastic no matter what," added Gelman, who also works as press secretary to Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, while moonlighting on HBO's Girls. "People need to put some time into making the America they want to see become a reality," she said. "Nervousness is good."