Behind the Headlines: Aipac Staffers Monitor Elections All Night to `be Part of History’

OF HISTORY’ As results of one of the most dramatic elections in modern times poured in Tuesday night, about 20 staffers manned the American Israel Public Affairs Committee headquarters here to monitor the races and “be a part of history,” as one staffer put it.

The second floor of the pro-Israel lobby’s Capitol Hill offices was transformed into a command post, with staffers ad volunteers here in constant touch with AIPAC activists around the country.

The main room resembled a trading floor on Wall Street. Staffers yelled results across the room kept track of results on reams of paper and handled a myriad of phone calls all through the night and into the early morning hours Wednesday.

Still others were buried under computer paper, trying to analyze election results as they came in.

Staffers kept their eyes peeled on CNN and periodically scanned Associated Press reports – all the time focused on how the 104th Congress would shape up as far as support for Israel was concerned, and how key pro-Israel legislators would fare.

Personal offices were turned into bases of operation, with local staff touching base with AIPAC representatives across the country, contacts in various organizations and candidates themselves.

Congratulation calls were made, as were condolence calls.

Gone were the ties and dresses seen earlier in the day. Staffers dressed comfortably, in jeans, shorts, sweats and T-shirts, prepared for a long night.

One staffer called the mood relaxed because as the results came in, AIPAC could be satisfied that its own representatives and members of other pro-Israel groups had worked with most of the candidates before the election.

AIPAC representatives called Tuesday the “culmination” of all the organization worked for over the past two years.

“(Tonight) is about touching base with all the people that the committee has reached out to and worked with,” said Toby Dershowits, AIPAC’s media relations coordinator.

A large, red, white and blue chart in the main room helped track the races, the winners getting stars next to their names. As results came in, a staffer entered them into a special election computer program, keeping everyone up-to- date.

The television table was festooned with red crepe paper, and the walls around the main television were covered with various election posters, from both sides of the fence.

AIPAC is a non-partisan group and does not endorse or fund any candidates.

Early in the night the smell of pizza filled the air and the food kept coming. Besides the piles of pizza boxes, two tables in the main room were laden with soda cans, pretzels, caramel popcorn, cookies and danish, fruit and a vegetable plate.

The air was filled with sounds of “He’s ahead I percent,” “It passed,” “Is that called?,” and shouts for staffers wanted on the phone.

Winners from around the country called in to express their appreciation for the involvement of the pro-Israel community in their campaigns. Some were Republican newcomers to Capitol Hill, like Oklahoma Senator-elect James Inhofe and Michigan Senator-elect Spencer Abraham, who is Arab American.

A collective cry of “Wow!” went up as longtime Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-III.) was voted out of office. Rostenkowski, the former chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, is under indictment on charges of fraud and embezzlement.

Staffers scrutinized the television screen when Virginia Sen. Charles Robb, a Democrat, made his victory speech. They were searching for an AIPAC activist they knew was at his headquarters.

Meanwhile, about six others gathered in a small office to watch California Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican, accept his next term.

About seven diehard staffers stayed throughout the night, preparing AIPAC’s election report.

AIPAC’s Washington office was not the only one manned all night by staffers and volunteers,

At a Los Angeles office building just before the polls closed there, the mood was “energetic,” said AIPAC Southern Pacific Director Sam Witkin, in a telephone interview.

“There’s a lot of energy in this room,” he said, shouting into the phone over the din in the background. “Everyone’s having a good time.”

The room was ” a full house,” with 200 people representing a cross-section of the Jewish community, and television monitors stationed about every 10 yards, Witkin said.

The mood the Southwest region was anticipatory and “joyful,” said Southwest Regional Director Jimmy Goldman. Goldman spent Tuesday visiting various campaign celebrations, keeping tabs on his region through his mobile phone.

In sharp contrast, AIPAC Mountain West Regional Director Bruce Barrett monitored the elections from his Montana home, as deer grazed outside.

Although his house was much quieter than Washington or Los Angeles, Barrett said he expected the phones to be ringing off the hook as soon as the polls closed there.

AIPAC President Steve Grossman, a longtime Democratic activist, also spent Tuesday night and much of Wednesday morning on the phone, making an estimated 200 to 300 calls.

“It’s quite an interesting evening,” he said in a telephone interview from his Boston home. He was calling candidates and offering congratulations or condolences.

By midnight, the crowd in Washington had begun to dwindle, as the remaining workers continued to map out the landscape of pro-Israel country for the 104th Congress.

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