On a clear and cold day in Wasilla, the afternoon sun was just setting over the Alaskan plains as the final ballots were being counted.
But many residents were in the dark, or at least refused to believe, what was an impending reality an hour before midnight EST: Sen. Barack Obama had won the presidency, even if he did not win the state of Alaska.
As more and more states fell to Obama last evening, Wasillan supporters of Sen John McCain and his running mate Gov. Sarah Palin said they still clung to the hope of victory for the Republican party. After all, many residents said, this was a win they believed in from the start.
“I have faith that the Republicans will go ahead and win,” said Heather Schim, who was taught by Palin’s father in high school.
Seeing their former governor in their hometown yesterday morning, only strengthened their faith, many residents said. She made a pit stop in Wasilla, the town where she once served as mayor, this morning to vote at the City Hall. Wasillans clamored to catch a peek of Palin on the big day.
“It was very relaxed, but also positive. We all had faith that we were going to win,” said Mario Johnson, who owns a drive-through coffee shop with his wife, Pamela. “Everyone was a bit shocked to see her after her having been on national television and all.”
On election night, local shops and stores closed, Johnson said, and people headed to a community-wide event at the Wasilla Sports Complex, which was planned for the Palin/McCain victory. A local band, “Sarah and the Pitbulls” — headed by Palin look-alike and assistant to Mayor Rupright, Joanna Papasodora — opened the event before the election results came in, pumping up the crowd for a victory.
Papasodora, the lead singer, has become a local celebrity since Palin’s nomination in August.
An hour after the results — which showed that the McCain-Palin ticket had been defeated — were broadcast, many residents said they were despondent. Five residents interviewed said they did not want to answer questions about their Palin’s defeat. And for the few who offered their comments, disappointment was a common theme.
Pamela Johnson claimed that “everybody” she knows in Wasilla is depressed. And while some Democrats across the country wept for joy, Johnson said her friends were crying tears of sadness.
“I’m really disappointed,” said Vicky Ouiptak, a middle-aged resident. She said she watched the election at the Sports Complex with her husband and niece.
In a odd twist of fate, Palin’s defeat was announced at the Sports Complex she inaugurated in March 2004.
“I’m pretty appalled,” said Mario’s wife, Pamela Johnson. She said her main concern was the future of Alaska and its oil drilling.
But beyond state politics, Johnson said she was unhappy with America’s next leader.
“I can’t believe we now have a president with the middle name Hussein, after we’ve spent so many years fighting a war in Iraq,” she said.
Still, her husband maintained, they remain “hopeful” and will be forced to look to Obama to answer the nation’s most pressing questions.
“All we can do here is hope,” he said. “That’s all that America has — hope, and prayer.”
But some Alaskans remained unaffected as they opted out of voting altogether.
Jason Marsh, a 28 year-old defense contractor who lives in Anchorage, 45 miles from Wasilla, said he had abstained from voting in this election due to concerns with the technology of the voting machines.
“Slot machines go through a hundred times more rigorous testing,” he said.
Marsh also said he could not adequately choose between the two candidates. He said his enthusiasm for Obama’s “good ideas,” on energy policy, for instance, was tempered by the reality of scarce alternative energy sources.
“I don’t think you can run a car on hippie juice,” he remarked.