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Election Night Parties

Napa Valley College trustee candidate in District 2 Jeff Dodd, right, talks to supporters at an election night party at NapaSport on Tuesday. Dodd held a narrow lead over incumbent Amy Martenson in early results. At left is Alex Pader of Napa.

Napa Democrats were feeling pretty good on election night. 

Early returns indicated that Democrats appeared poised to wrest back control of the U.S. House, even while Republicans seemed ready to secure more spots in the Senate.  

Napa Democrats gathered to watch results trickle in Tuesday night at NapaSport, an upscale, south Napa sports bar. Almost every TV in the joint was tuned to CNN or MSNBC — there was no Fox News in sight. Partygoers wore red and blue beads around their necks, applauding and cheering when races were called for Democrats. Some booed when Republicans gained an upper hand. 

Many had mixed emotions. Democrats dominate politics in Napa County and California and they were relieved to see Democrats regain control of the House, but most had hoped to see more districts flip blue. 

"It is the Blue Wave that I wanted to see," G. Anthony Phillips, chairman of the California Democratic Party's arm in Napa County, said by phone Wednesday. "I was also hoping for a tsunami, so we didn't get that." 

It seemed the Democrats were doing alright.

The party was not rowdy by any means. But wine was flowing even after Napa County released its first returns and the party began to wane.  

Tables were decorated with buckets filled with mini American flags, and blue and red tinsel, and small signs that read "Every Vote Counts" or "Election Day." 

Emotions were mixed. Partygoers were glad to see Democratic gains, but sad to see highly publicized blue candidates like U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, a U.S. Senate candidate looking to upend incumbent Ted Cruz, and Stacey Abrams, a Georgia candidate who would have become America's first black female governor, fall to their opponents.  

Some lamented America's hyper-partisan, polarizing political environment, but had choice words for Republicans. Others wondered whether much would get done with Congress held in the balance between two parties, and how they might work to ensure Democrats gain more power in 2020. 

But pretty much everyone felt relieved. This year's Election Day felt much different than Election Day in 2016, when voters defied pollsters' projections and ushered President Donald Trump into office. 

For Johanna O'Kelley, head of Democrats of Napa Valley Club and ex-Napa campaign coordinator for Hillary Clinton in 2016, watching Clinton lose felt tragic, almost like a death, she said.  

It took months for O'Kelley to return to politics, but she ultimately decided she wanted to help Democrats in their efforts to take back the House. O'Kelley stopped looking at the news for the past few weeks before Election Day because she did not want anything to deter her. 

"Night and day, that's all I could say," she said. "In 2016, that was devastating." 

Messages left Wednesday with Napa's Republican Party were not returned. 

Pollsters strongly favored Democrats to seize majority control of the House of Representatives for the next two years, but it remained to be seen whether the so-called Blue Wave would actually manifest on Election Day. 

In total, Democrats needed to flip 23 red seats to gain majority control. Republicans occupied 235 of the 428 seats in the House and Democrats held 193. 

As of Wednesday, Democrats were poised to clinch battleground races in about half of tossup districts and all Democrat-favored districts. They took a couple of races where Republicans were favored to win, too. 

Seven key races were in California.  

So Napa Democrats sent texts, made calls and even traveled to other districts in the state. Some even went out of state to Reno, said O'Kelley of the Democrats of Napa Valley Club. 

The club held voter registration events at farmers markets, grocery stores and in schools. They went to apartment buildings too, she said. The club registered  about 25,000 Napa voters. 

Napa had such strong Democratic candidates this year that the party felt its resources could best be used by travelling elsewhere in the state, said Phillips of the state Democratic Party's Napa branch. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, was a big proponent of those efforts, he said. 

"Overall, I feel very good about our presence not only here but nationally," he said. 

But Napa's Green Party candidates were dealt blows in several races where Democrats prevailed. 

James Hinton, Napa City Council candidate, and Jason Kishineff, American Canyon City Council candidate, both finished a distant last, barring a drastic change in late votes that have yet to be counted. And Amy Martenson, Napa Valley College trustee, appears to be narrowly losing her spot to candidate Jeff Dodd, son of state Sen. Bill Dodd. 

Beth Goff, who is leading the race to represent American Canyon as a Napa Valley College Trustee, appears to be the only winning Green Party candidate. But she claimed to identify more closely with Democrats in a Register editorial board meeting. 

"I do think it's kind of a wake-up call," said Kenneth Graham, an active member of the Napa County Green Party. 

The party needs a stronger platform and it needs to better educate the public on their ideals, he said. There probably are issues with attracting candidates too. 

Overall, Democrats were pleased with Tuesday's results, many in left-leaning Napa wondered what went wrong, why more districts didn't go blue. They were looking to 2020 just hours after votes began to pour in. 

Padilla of the Napa County Young Democrats said at Tuesday's party that she's optimistic for the future of the party, but still cautious. Democrats could do a better job communicating with the public. Part of the problem is that Democrats can live in their own bubble at times and don't communicate well with each other, she said. 

"Obviously we didn't win everything and we have to analyze, why is that?," said Esperanza Padilla, head of Napa County Young Democrats. "Is that because of voter suppression … (or) barriers for people? Is it something about the party?" 

For Conchita Marusich of the Napa County Democratic Central Committee, securing more political gains for Democrats will mean knocking on more doors, calling more voters and meeting people where they are. 

"America is made up of so many great people," she said. "I don't accept that it is as divided as it is."

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Courtney can be reached at 707-256-2221. You can send her an anonymous tip, and follow her reporting on Twitter and Facebook.

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Public Safety Reporter

Courtney Teague is the Napa Valley Register public safety reporter. She can be reached at 707-256-2221. You can follow her reporting on Twitter and Facebook, or send her anonymous tip at: tinyurl.com/anonymous-tipbox-courtney.