Democratic Gov. Edward G. Rendell's supporters packed the ballroom at Philadelphia's Warwick Hotel, and crowded around television sets, which fed them up-to-date information on competitive races throughout the country. They watched with an intensity of focus, as the scroll of numbers across the screen slowly unveiled whether or not Democratic candidates throughout the country could unseat Republicans from their positions of power.
The governor of Pennsylvania surged ahead in the fight, rocketing to an early lead against his opponent, Republican Lynn Swann, and never faltering. According to unofficial results from the Pennsylvania Department of State, Rendell earned 60 percent of the vote compared to Swann's 40 percent, and a popular-vote victory of 2,320,768 to 1,528,648.
Even early in the night, the ballroom buzzed with energy as Rendell and Democratic Senate nominee Bob Casey Jr. jumped out in front of their Republican challengers by commanding margins. As results came in from down-ticket Pennsylvania congressional races, the mood neared jubilation, as Democrats across the state made strong plays for seats in Congress. And an early concession speech by Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum sent waves of rejoicing through the crowd.
Philadelphian Lawrence F. Swann spent the day getting out the vote for Rendell in the University City section of the city, and was amazed at the overwhelming support he saw. "People were up for this election," he said.
"He has been an effective governor," he added, "just as he [was] an effective mayor."
Nearing 11 p.m., a roster of Philadelphia's most noted politicians and power-players, including several mayoral hopefuls, appeared onstage to prep the crowd for the governor's acceptance speech. Between songs played by a string band, Philadelphia congressman and Democratic City Chairman Bob Brady riled up supporters to a state of near frenzy.
Fellow Philadelphia congressman Chaka Fattah then took to the podium to extol the current and future governor. "Ed Rendell is a true son of Philadelphia," he exclaimed. "He's not just had the job — he's done the job."
Victorious Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll added, "We're going to keep making the difference for the average person."
Rendell then entered the ballroom to the roar of his supporters.
"Pennsylvanians voted overwhelmingly for a government that was willing to invest in the future," he said.
He rattled off a litany of plans, from a continued investment in cleaner energy to making sure that those in need in Pennsylvania are taken care of. Basing the campaign on the accomplishments of the administration was a key to victory, he said. "We dominated the airwaves; we told the story of our accomplishments."
The governor then proffered some kind words for the man who had also campaigned across the Keystone State, Bob Casey Jr. "Bob held his own against Pennsylvania's fiercest debater," said Rendell.
While Rendell and other Philadelphia politicians worked the crowd, results from the hot Pennsylvania 4th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 10th districts poured in, with Democratic candidates in the lead or running-even with the five Republican incumbents.
As it became clear that Democrats would take back the House, supporters celebrated. "I think it's absolutely spectacular," said Aram C. Farber, a Philadelphia lawyer, who has supported Rendell from his time as mayor of Philadelphia. "I strongly think that the people in our state are looking for a new direction."
Liz McElroy of the Philadelphia AFL-CIO echoed that sentiment: "People are tired of the status quo." She said Rendell was good for the labor movement; he supported issues like the minimum wage hike — and labor had shown up for him.
"We've had an army of people on the streets since the summer," she noted, capped with a final push during the last four days of the campaign.
"The jinx is gone," said Nephtali Berlin, who had been at two other Warwick Hotel election-night events over the past six years, only to see Al Gore and John Kerry lose in each contest. He said he's glad the right-wing majority he saw develop was finally giving way to the opposition. He noted that crises like Hurricane Katrina and the war in Iraq have shaken up the way Americans had been thinking about the Republican Party.
The re-elected governor of Pennsylvania encouraged supporters to take time to celebrate, but he added one final reminder: "The challenges that face us don't take a vacation — and neither should we."