Running on Empty: scenes from the last day of the worst campaign in American history
This story was originally published by the Duke Political Review on November 8, 2016.
Lady Gaga was there.
Just after midnight — at 12:08 a.m., before Clinton’s traveling press arrived — the popstar appeared on stage to the sound of thunderous applause.
“What I’m asking you right now is to be in this moment with us, and fight for your children, and your future,” Gaga said. “Hillary Clinton is made of steel. Hillary Clinton is unstoppable.”
In a campaign marked by wickedness, and vitriol, Gaga preached civility.
“If we are true Americans,” Gaga said, “then we must go from viewing his followers as adversaries, to viewing them as allies.”
Civility is a worthy goal, and one of many of those attending tonight. But the virtue has been hard to come by for the greater part of the campaign season. Still, tonight, it’s worth mentioning.
This is the last night of what will likely go down as the most exhausting election in American history. In six and a half hours, the polls will open here in Raleigh. Those who vote that early will likely be lacking in sleep. Some here, especially.
Nearly 6,000 Clinton supporters are here for what I’m affectionately calling Late Night with Hillary — a midnight rally aimed at getting students at NC State to the polls. After jumping from state to state, this is the Democratic nominee’s last stop before decision day.
She brought the big guns too. Joining Gaga are music icon Bon Jovi, former President and First Gentleman hopeful Bill Clinton, his daughter, Chelsea, and the notorious H.R.C. herself.
The campaign has been long, and strenuous, but it’s going out with a bang.
Michael Raburn has had enough.
“I’m ready for it to be over,“ Raburn, 46, said. “This is ridiculous.”
For more than a year and a half, Raburn and his daughter, Emily, endured a seemingly endless onslaught of political ads, rallies, and fliers. In the last week, it’s gotten even worse, and Raburn is tired of commercials on his television — he already voted, and is praying someone develops an app that allows him to push them off his screen.
“How has it been going on this long,” Raburn said. “I’d like to see a law passed where it [the election] has to be six months.”
Raburn and his daughter — a first time voter — are Clinton supporters. When they heard the potential POTUS was coming to their hometown the night before the election, they made a beeline to the arena. The lengthy election season has taken its toll, but here, with only a few hours before the first polls open on the east coast, Raburn is excited.
“I’ll be honest,” Raburn said, “I went through a period where I was pretty despondent. There’s been so much vitriol. But today, I’m excited.”
Raburn, a professor at Meredith college, said in a way, the election has actually been good for him.
“I’m an ethics professor,” Raburn said. “For years, I had to convince people racism was still a thing. This year, I just showed a YouTube video of Trump.”
Christian Todd is a modern unicorn.
After 18 grueling months — three of which were spent canvassing for the Sanders campaign — he’s still somehow in high spirits. The election hasn’t worn on him. He’s ready for it to end, sure, but on the whole, it’s been an exciting ride.
Todd supported Bernie right up until the end, and didn’t stop fighting until the first night of this summer’s Democratic National Convention, when his champion endorsed Secretary Clinton. He wasn’t mad Sanders conceded. He was just disappointed the ride had to end.
Todd’s been called many things, but the most accurate name is political junkie. In 2008, when he was just 14, he volunteered at phone banks for then Senator Clinton. In 2012, he took up arms for the Obama campaign. Now though, he’s all-in for Hillary, and even though he loves the campaign, he’s worried about the things Donald Trump has said at his rallies, and throughout the election.
“What Trump’s candidacy means for this country hasn’t been talked about,” Todd said. “We have a large percentage of people in this country that reject every progressive move we’ve made since World War II. I’ve never heard such vehemence.”
On most nights, that’s what would upset him most. But tonight, he’s sitting in the risers just above the Stronger Together banner where Clinton will speak. This is his 10th rally. He has more important things to focus on.
The setup at Reynolds Coliseum Monday night allowed 5,700 fans to catch a glimpse of the Democratic nominee. After about a half hour of politicking, the campaign managed to convince the fire marshal to squeeze another 300 supporters in. The catch? They’d have to sit behind one of three enormous American flags.
One of the lucky few who managed to fight their way inside was Ryan Dunn, a freshman at North Carolina State, and a first time voter. The election started to wear him down around the halfway point, but 18-year-old recently found his second wind.
“On the last night, I’m excited,” Dunn said. “I’m enthusiastic, I’m optimistic, and I’m very, very excited for it to be over.”
Dunn was one of the earlier people in line for tonight’s rally, showing up outside of the Coliseum at 4:30 in the afternoon, right after his last class of the day ended. The Benson, N.C. native is hopeful for the results tomorrow, but is worried about the legacy the election will leave behind.
“People are going to stop and look back at what happened,” Dunn said. “I think there needs to be a reality check.”
And that view is understandable. The election has been so emotionally charged, Dunn said, that he lost a friend over it recently.
“I try not to do that, but there are some people who consider it an offense if you don’t agree with them.”
It’s a safe bet Grace Diakabanzila is the youngest person here tonight.
She won’t turn one until November 16th, but she’s already been to three other rallies. She even got a picture with Michelle Obama.
Her mother, Trina, said that even though Grace probably won’t understand what’s going on around her, it’s important for her to see her potential.
“I’m excited to see a female running for the most powerful position in America,” Diakabanzila said. “Especially for my daughter. It lets her know that anything you put your mind to, you can do.”
The Raleigh native said she was “extra excited” for the election, in large part because as a member of the military, the Commander-in-Chief has a strong effect on her life.
She’s confident the country is about to elect its first woman President. She’s got a mother’s intuition.
As she walks away, Grace drops her binky. It matches the pink jacket around her shoulders, and the headband on her head. She’s sure Grace will be awake when Clinton gives her speech.
When she does, it’s almost as if Clinton is speaking directly to her smallest fan.
“Well, I gotta tell you,” Clinton says, “This is sure worth staying up for.”