Anxious US public turns to booze, news as fate of divided nation in balance

A lack of certainty wears down on an American public exhausted by a seemingly endless election campaign

US President Donald Trump supporter Loretta Oakes reacts while watching returns in favor of Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, at a Republican election-night watch party, November 3, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
US President Donald Trump supporter Loretta Oakes reacts while watching returns in favor of Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, at a Republican election-night watch party, November 3, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania (AP) — They clung to their cocktails and proclaimed themselves sick with dread. They relentlessly checked the news and went outdoors for fresh air. They bemoaned a wipeout wave that never came and held out hope their favored candidate would still eke out a win.

With the fate of the White House undecided Wednesday, a jittery and bitterly divided America braced for rocky days to come and the possibility a man they despise would be leading the nation.

“I can’t turn on the news. I don’t feel good at all,” said 61-year-old Tammy Lewandowski, a supporter of President Donald Trump in Milwaukee, where former Vice President Joe Biden emerged as the state’s winner. That’s an outcome Lewandowski fears will amount to a loss of law and order and rioting. “I feel like we lost our country. I don’t know that anything will be the same again.”

Just as troubled by what he was seeing, Jason Klemm, a 49-year-old actor in Philadelphia, sipped vodka from a 7-Eleven cup Wednesday morning in Rittenhouse Square, trying to ease his nerves after staying glued to television coverage until 4 a.m., then rising after a nap. As returns continued streaming in, Klemm felt more confident than he did a few hours earlier that his candidate, Biden, could prevail. But he knew the results would fall short of what he’d hoped for.

Rita Brown, a supporter of Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, watches election results at a watch party in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (AP/David Goldman)

“I would have liked a miracle last night but it didn’t happen,” said Klemm, whose state showed Trump leading with many votes uncounted. “But every time I walk away and come back later, it’s a little bit better for Biden.”

Votes were still being counted across the country and likely will be for days to come as Biden and Trump both remain short of the necessary 270 electoral votes to win. Nothing was out of the ordinary in that process beyond a predicted surge of mail-in votes, but the lack of certainty wore on a public exhausted by a seemingly endless campaign, and all the attacks, vitriol and costly TV commercials that go with it.

The Capitol is seen in Washington on the morning after Election Day, November 4, 2020. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

An answer was all but certain to be delayed by recounts and legal challenges of razor-thin margins in one or more of the swing states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona and Nevada, a bitter pill for those certain the future of the country will be determined by the result.

Though the AP was able to call Wisconsin for Biden on Wednesday afternoon, the other states remained in flux. The fate of lower races remained unknown too, including the balance of the Senate, where forecasts of Democrats achieving a majority now seemed all but out of reach.

At a Fems for Dems gathering in the affluent Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, women routinely moaned and dropped their heads into their hands as the returns came in early Wednesday, some considering switching from red wine to tequila. Even as they held out hope, they knew they hadn’t won what they wanted: a nationwide repudiation of Trump.

“I honestly feel like I’m going to have a heart attack before the end of this,” said Denice Asbell. “I feel like it’s slipping. I’m scared to say this out loud, but the potential for us to see the win that we wanted is slipping away.”

Denice Asbell, left, brings her daughter Rhegan, 13, center, down to the central counting board to observe democratic election challengers watching ballots being counted in the early morning hours November 4, 2020 in Detroit. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Asbell’s daughter, 13-year-old Rhegan Stallworth, shared the angst as she braced for the outcome in a country where many don’t understand the beliefs of the opposing side.

“It’s like putting your life in the hands of a nation that you don’t trust,” said Stallworth.

People watch a broadcast of Fox News showing presidential election returns at an election night watch party organized by group ‘Villagers for Trump’ in The Villages, Florida, on November 3, 2020. (Ricardo ARDUENGO / AFP)

The possibility of seeing Trump ushered from Pennsylvania Avenue was a tough one for his supporters to grasp, too. Jim Green, a 73-year-old accountant from Greenfield, Wisconsin, said he felt confident the president could win even as he feared the alternative. When a neighbor stopped by Wednesday to commiserate, the weight of the uncertainty was evident.

“I’m sick to my stomach,” the SUV’s driver said to Green, who responded: “Just don’t go buy a gun and shoot people.”

In North Carolina, where Democrats clung to hope despite a lead for Trump, Kyle Holland, an 18-year-old student voting in his first election, thought his choice of Trump would prevail.

“I think he looks in pretty good shape. I mean, it’s not gonna be a blowout or anything, but I think he’s gonna be able to get to 270 electoral votes,” said Holland, who lives in Faison, North Carolina.

Stephan King, a 66-year-old Durham, North Carolina, resident who gave Biden his vote, was similarly confident, although he knew it could be days more before anything was certain.

“We thought Biden was down, then Biden was up, then Biden was down, Biden was up, so it’s coming in waves,” King said. “For all the votes that have to be counted, it’s gonna take a few days for it.”

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