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Student communities convene for midterm election watch parties

SHIRLEY CAI / The Stanford Daily

As midterm results unfolded on Tuesday night, students held watch parties around campus to observe an election that is widely considered a referendum on President Donald Trump and his leadership of the Republican party.

Two years after Trump’s victory shocked a left-leaning campus, students said the evening’s outcomes were largely expected, even as they mourned results in certain high profile Congressional races.

After 2016’s upset, people are “more realistic about what’s likely to happen,” said Tinuola Dada ’19, who spent Tuesday evening at Stanford in Government’s (SIG) watch party in ZAP. She thinks students have become more engaged in politics since the presidential election.

“A lot of people don’t pay attention to the midterms,” she said. “Even if you don’t show up to something like [a watch party], it’s very expected that you vote in the midterms, which for our demographic has not historically been the case.”

Mixed reactions

The SIG gathering — traditionally one of Stanford’s largest election-night events — drew some 40 students who alternately booed and cheered over Pizza My Heart as results came in. No one was particularly surprised by Democrats’ House takeover or Republicans’ continued hold on the Senate after weeks of similar predictions from pollsters. Attention focused instead on several Democratic candidates across the country: Beto O’Rourke’s longshot campaign to unseat Republican Senator Ted Cruz, and Stacey Abrams’s and Andrew Gillum’s Democratic bids for governor in Georgia and Florida, respectively.

Texan Isaiah Drummond ’20, SIG’s Co-Director of Diversity and Outreach, was particularly excited about O’Rourke’s candidacy — and disappointed when analysts began calling the Senate race for Cruz. He wasn’t alone: Members of Stanford’s sizeable Texas population planned a “Texas Flag Rager” to be held in White Plaza if O’Rourke beat the odds and won.

Bring your Lone Star flags, your Whataburger table numbers and your thickest southern cotton UT shirt,” the organizers wrote in a Facebook event posting. “Stupid-loud Cotton Eye Joe. Californians are not welcome, and we will be checking state IDs.”

Despite O’Rourke’s loss, Drummond was encouraged by the fact that O’Rourke — who would have been the first Texas Democrat elected to the Senate in 30 years — came within three percentage points of Cruz and bolstered liberal candidates across the state.

“If you look closely at the U.S. House in Texas, you can see a lot of it was galvanized by the Beto campaign,” he said. “A lot of seats that are traditionally Republican have switched over.”

While conservatives are a minority on campus, they have also been invigorated since the 2016 election. The Stanford College Republicans’ (SCR) watch party on Tuesday was a testament to their growing numbers and their influence on the campus political scene; about 30 students came to Potter House lounge, up from the 13 students who gathered two years ago in Lantana and expressed surprise at Trump’s victory.

“I would say that the mood in the room is very good,”  SCR treasurer Ben Esposito ’21 said.

According to Esposito, the Republican crowd was watching many Midwest races closely — including the candidacy of Stanford alum and Republican Josh Hawley ’02, who defeated incumbent Claire McCaskill for a Missouri Senate seat. Speaking to The Daily early on in the evening, he called the results so far a “mixed bag” but drew attention to the polarizing role of Brett Kavanaugh’s contentious Supreme Court confirmation leading up to the midterms.

“Every single red-state Senator who voted against Kavanaugh lost,” Esposito observed.

Esposito and SCR President John Rice-Cameron ’20, upon seeing The Daily’s reporter attempt to take a photograph of the organization’s gathering, charged at her, insisting that photographs could not be taken at the event without the consent of all of the individuals pictured. Speaking with the reporter outside the watch party and without Rice-Cameron present, Esposito asked that he personally witness her delete what she had photographed of the watch party.

In October, a SCR “Change My Mind” tabling event in White Plaza made headlines after Rice-Cameron alleged that Melinda Hernandez ’21 shoved him. Hernandez, on the other hand, said that she had only touched Rice-Cameron on the chest after he refused to stop video recording her. Rice-Cameron did not ultimately press charges.

White Plaza, a public space on campus, legally allows for visual recording (but not audio recording) without the consent of all parties involved, according to First Amendment legal expert Jim Wheaton. Though the College Republicans’ watch party occurred in a student residence rather than a University-designated “free speech area” like White Plaza, it was sponsored by a Voluntary Student Organization open to all students, and was well-attended by both College Republicans members and generic Potter residents.

At the end of the night, SCR told The Daily in a statement that while they were “disappointed” to see the Republican loss of the House, they were “glad to see that the House Freedom Caucus should retain its strength and that the resulting Democrat majority should be fairly weak.” The College Republicans also celebrated the GOP’s success in the Senate, including against those they called participants in “the partisan madhouse known as the Kavanaugh hearings.”

Meanwhile, the Stanford chapter of the International Socialist Organization took a broad view of the election outcomes, focusing on future organizing.

“No matter what the results are, we need to build an independent socialist left to fight against capitalism and the far right,” a representative wrote in a message to The Daily.

The Stanford American Indian Organization (SAIO), which hosted a watch party at the Native American Cultural Center lounge, expressed excitement for the election of the first two Native women to Congress. However, the group emphasized “the work that still needs to be done in this country” to adequately represent indigenous peoples’ interests.

“By continuing to have our voices heard through representatives like Sharice Davids, Deb Haaland and the multiple other indigenous individuals who ran for office, we can hope to restructure the institutions which so often attack our communities,” SAIO wrote in an email to The Daily.

Amid the focus on statewide races, students also eyed results in their home areas. SIG Vice Chair of Operations and watch party attendee Ana Cabrera ’20, who is from Cuba and voted for the first time in 2016 after becoming a U.S. citizen, was happy that Democrats took back two Congressional districts close to where she lives. In the past, she’s been frustrated by a string of Republican officeholders despite what she describes as a growing Democratic wave among young people.

Larger races were more of a letdown for Cabrera, as current Governor Rick Scott narrowly won a Senate seat in her home state. She also referenced Florida governor-elect Ron DeSantis’ controversial ad showing his young children building a wall of blocks in a nod to President Trump’s border wall and immigration agenda.

“I just can’t believe that someone like [DeSantis] was able to win,” Cabrera said. “There’s definitely a lot of feelings of frustration at the statewide level, but I am very hopeful for local elections,” she added.

Casting votes

Christina Li ’21, co-director of nonpartisan group Stanford Votes, stressed the importance of turnout and said she believes her group was successful in raising awareness about the election.

“Hopefully people were able to take action,” she said.

Not everyone made it to the polls, and some students expressed confusion Tuesday about where they were registered to vote. Watching results in the freshman dorm Cedro, Alexander Lerner ’22 admitted that he forgot to send his absentee ballot to Florida.

Other students couldn’t imagine not participating. In Soto, Kevin Li ’22 — an Iowan who has spent hundreds of hours over the past two years canvassing for candidates — said the election “means the world” to him.

“To have it all boil down in one day is such an intense feeling there wasn’t any way that I couldn’t watch this election,” Li said.

Some watch party members at internationally-themed Hammarskjöld​ House, or Hamm, were unable to vote in the elections because of their citizenship. But they still followed races closely, conscious of the broader impact of U.S. politics.

Brigitte Pawliw-Fry ’19, an international student from Ontario, Canada who helped organize the watch party, said she saw the event as one piece of a larger effort to immerse Hamm residents in different perspectives on timely issues. Pawliw-Fry noted that the citizenship status of Hamm residents ranges from non-citizens to first-generation citizens, including people granted citizenship just a few months ago.

“I’m not able to vote but feel very implicated in this because, as Canadians, we’re super affected by what the U.S. does,” she said.

About 15 people joined the watch party at its peak, Pawliw-Fry said. Co-organizer Sima Biondi ’19 believes one deterrent to watch party attendance was Trump’s victory in 2016.

“People know a bit more about this election and care about it a little bit more, but it’s also hard to watch given the trauma of two years ago,” she said. “People just don’t really want to see it.”

Biondi and fellow watch party co-organizer Katherine Irajpanah ’19 both reported voting in the election. Although Pawliw-Fry could not vote, she noted her excitement to see about 1.5 million felons who have served their sentences receive the right to vote with the passing of Proposition 4 in Florida.

“For me, it’s really exciting to get to engage with international students as well people who haven’t registered to vote, to get to share this very exciting process for democracy,” Irajpanah said.

 

This article has been corrected to note that Ana Cabrera ’19 criticized a campaign ad for gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis, not senatorial candidate Rick Scott. This article has also been updated to describe the distinction between White Plaza, a University-designated “free speech area,” and the Potter lounge, an inside area accessible to all residents and other students. It has also been updated to clarify that Ben Esposito did not originally know how many photographs the reporter had taken at the SCR event, and that he spoke with the reporter outside the lounge after the dispute over the photography. The article has also been updated to clarify that Democrats took back two Congressional districts close to where Cabrera lives. The original article noted that Democrats took back “several” districts, but it did not provide a number. The Daily regrets these errors.

 

Shirley Cai, Richard Coca, Patrick Monreal and Cooper Veit contributed to this report.

Contact Hannah Knowles at hknowles ‘at’ stanford.edu, Holden Foreman at hs4man21 ‘at’ stanford.edu and Erin Woo at ekwoo ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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