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I’m sitting in Libertarian Party headquarters, surrounded by empty Bertucci’s boxes, sandwiched between a guy wearing a Washington Nationals jersey that reads “Blood Donor” on the back and a former party director methodically eating potato chips. “Hey,” says one woman to a guy checking his iPhone. “Checking ballot access news?” “Nah,” he says. “I’m trying to get news on the marijuana initiatives.”
I was supposed to go watch election return with the Green Party. But they were late for their own party at El Tamarindo in Adams Morgan. So around 8:45, I head over to the national Libertarian Party headquarters in the Watergate complex. There, I’m greeted by Robert Kraus, the party’s cherubic, balding director of operations, and Nigel Lyons, a sardonic videographer, who are picking up pizza outside the building. Nigel hands me six boxes to carry before we head up to the sixth floor. Already in the elevator Kraus is discouraged—not because Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson stands no chance—but because his own Alexandria City Council race isn’t going well: “I’m 10 out of 12, and only six make it.” I offer my condolences.
Up in the Libertarian Party suite, Johnson banners drape the walls, and instead of election returns, everyone is staring at a Google Hangout on a TV screen. “Gary Johnson has invited you into the Hangout,” reads the screen. Johnson himself never shows up, but I do ask a few awkward questions to New Hampshire congressional candidate Hardy Macia, “the only candidate we’ve ever had with the CIA in his name.” Kraus has a $1 bet on who wins more votes—Macia in New Hampshire or him, in Alexandria.
“Are you a libertarian?” Diana Castillo asks me, as we wait for someone of consequence to appear on the Hangout. She got into libertarian politics in Spain, where she’d organize ten-person Ron Paul marches. She moved here a year ago after she lost her job as a computer programmer.
There are a fair amount of IT workers in libertarian circles, says Jody Underwood, a New Hampshire resident who recently moved there from Rockville. Underwood and Rich Goldman, who are sitting next to me, work for the Free State Project, a utopian initiative to get people to move from their home states to New Hampshire. “No sales tax, no income tax, great motto—Live Free or Die,” says Goldman, 29. Goldman still lives in Maryland, but is planning to make his own trek to New Hampshire once the group garners 20,000 signatures. (1,100 have already moved to the state as part of the project.) He’s checking Drudge and making fun of Russia Today, when I observe that we’re at the only election party in the world where nobody is watching election results. “It doesn’t matter,” says Underwood. “Both will take our civil liberties away.”
For the most part, the Libertarians just root for Gary Johnson to play spoiler. When New Hampshire is called for Barack Obama, executive director Carla Howell cheers. (She assumes that an Obama victory maximizes the libertarian share of the vote that didn’t go to Mitt Romney.) Then she roots for Romney to take Colorado (Colorado libertarians veer leftward, so if Romney wins there, more would have voted for Johnson). Then, she pulls hard for Romney to lose Minnesota, since the state GOP “kicked Gary off the ballot.”
Otherwise, some guy who looks like Arizona Senate candidate Jeff Flake keeps asking about Jeff Flake’s progress. Occasionally, party members check in on libertarian candidates and ballot initiatives. Howell yells into the Hangout, “Who got 7 percent?” before realizing she’s on mute and settling into her seat.
At 11:15 NBC calls the election for Obama. “Check Fox News,” Robert says, excitedly. “Check Drudge. That’s just as good.”
Correction: Hardy Macia’s name was misspelled in an earlier version of the story.
Photo by Simon van Zuylen-Wood