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Snapshots from Election Day

AARON MCKINNEY
AARON MCKINNEY

AT AN UNEMPLOYMENT OFFICE

Down here on the unemployment line, far from the klaxon volume of Election Day fights for suburban votes and millionaire checks, people are used to being ignored.

Anyone paying close attention to Election 2012 might have caught Mitt Romney’s occasional mention of the poor or President Barack Obama’s sparse remarks on helping folks “climb up” into the middle class. But search the record for substantive debate on propping up America’s working poor. It’d be easier to find Mittens’ defense of his magic Mormon underwear, which is to say there isn’t any.

“The tax brackets these [candidates] live in … it’s just a different world,” said Las Vegan Korey Gibson, who’s been looking for work — any work — for five months. Gibson bums a cigarette from a passerby, gives up on the ride he was waiting for and heads off toward a nearby bus stop. “You think they understand what we’re going through?”

Not hardly, said fellow job-seeker Chuck Tibbetts, who wheeled into the local unemployment office on a rusted-out mountain bike held together in places with duct tape. “Neither one of ’em understands the struggles we face,” he said, searching through his dirt-stained jeans for a cell phone he convinced an employed friend to pay for. “You can’t understand someone’s problems unless you’ve walked a mile in their moccasins.”

Obama, Romney and their entourages of high-priced consultants likely realize it’s bad politics these days to spend too much time on America’s working poor — now at a 20-year high. That kind of talk siphons precious energy from convincing soccer moms to worry about debt ceilings or millionaires to fret over capital gains. These are the people who vote, after all. Those clinging to the bottom rungs of the economic ladder rarely make it to the polls. They’re too worried about making the rent, paying the light bill or getting enough to eat.

Betty Morse, a young mother of two and desperate for any kind of job, said she didn’t have time to vote. She barely had time to talk. With a sick toddler on her hip and a day full of appointments with bureaucrats, she did pause to offer a parting thought for those seeking office: “Help us, and maybe we’ll help you.” JASON WHITED

AT AN ELECTION-WATCHING PARTY

“Let’s watch the election results at a gay bar!” That was the plan Sunday night. Come Tuesday, the itinerary had markedly changed. My friends (a gay couple) had decided to host election night at their home, instead. It was just as well. When I called three of our favorite queer watering holes to ensure we’d be able to get our MSNBC on, the consensus was that while the TVs might be on, the sound would be coming from Rihanna, not Rachel Maddow.

And so I came over after my long-ass day, notepad in hand (soon to be replaced by a glass of wine). Six pals were already huddled around the TV, awaiting swing-state results. I was expecting drunkeness and crude commentary. While I held my end of that bargain, my friends were more subdued. Was it nervousness? Ohio, Florida and Virginia were awfully close. Obama barely held an electoral vote majority; Romney had the popular vote. We were also feverishly refreshing Twitter and Facebook on our phones. In short, we weren’t quite having fun yet. (Though we did establish a contingency plan: We’d hit the bar if Romney won.)

Once the networks called it for Obama, the fun began. “Time for another drink!” yelled the host. We switched to Fox for some schadenfreude, watching Karl Rove in full denial-meltdown mode. Then, the funniest tweet of the night, from an absent friend: “No one was at body pump tonight. Hey, did Obama win?” And we swapped hilarious social media messages and memes as we waited for Romney to fucking concede already.

Then, we all seemed to hit a wall. One girl started drinking tea in order to stay up for Obama’s victory speech (which was, ironically, the most stirring thing I heard him say all year). Fatigue had settled in, and if we weren’t physically exhausted, we might have just been finally worn down from this punishing election year. “Have any of you actually told yourselves it’s finally over?” I asked. Saying that felt as good as any glass of wine I had just downed.

Salud, Mr. President. MIKE PREVATT

AT AN EAST LAS VEGAS TAQUERIA

The polls had been closed barely an hour when the music kicked in. Not the pomp and stuffy cymbal touch of some patriotic snoozer, but a brassy peal of lush horns, thumping bass and the soaring tenor of a traditional Mexican folk song.

Nearly all at once, dozens of Latinos poured through the door of a brightly lit taqueria in an east Las Vegas strip mall, ready to party on election night and amping the jukebox with their own wall of sound. Kids, parents, older siblings, middle-aged activists … this was the core of Mi Familia Vota, the nonprofit which, if the number of Latino voters here keeps rising, could become the most dominant grassroots organization in Nevada political history.

Leo Murietta, the Nevada director of the national group, presided over it all. In between sips of soda and bites of taco, Murietta predicted the work of his group — which registered more than 19,000 new voters since the spring — had just begun.

“We need an honest discussion in this country — about immigration, about jobs, about education reform,” he said. “The politicians are either going to work with us and deliver, or we’re going to punish those responsible.”

That punishment could be harsh and quick. Murietta said Nevada Latinos made up 18 percent of the electorate this year. Just four years ago, that figure was 13 percent.

The group, with chapters in six states (and growing) aims to involve Latinos in a list of political issues, to convince them to grasp the latent electoral power that, statistically, should be been theirs years ago.

No worries, said Murietta, Mi Familia grows by the day. Latinos are interwoven throughout the nation’s cultural and political fabric, and they want the “power, dignity and respect” they deserve. “We’ve earned it,” he said, before heading off to lead the restaurant in a hand-clapping, foot-stomping cheer. “The real work starts tomorrow.”

Murietta said his group doesn’t endorse any particular candidate, but waves of cheers rolled across the restaurant each time C-SPAN announced the president had won another state.

By the time the television anchors called the race for Obama, this little taqueria was rocking with about four dozen activists going absolutely apeshit. Welcome to la nueva realidad política. JASON WHITED

AT THE BAR AT SHERI’S RANCH, PAHRUMP

Kim: “I like that Romney is a businessman, and he could probably fix the economy. But I don’t agree with his stance on abortion.”

Chloe: “They’re both puppets.”

Pam: “Between you and me, I didn’t vote. I’m a hooker.”

Char: I worked on Capitol Hill before moving out here. I [encountered] Obama when he was part of the Illinois Senate.”

Pam: “Do you have a credit card?”

Igor from Staten Island: “That Obama, he did it. I wonder what he’ll do with the next four years.”

Red Diamonds: “Fine, get a burger. But have me for dessert.”

Local guy to other local guy: “Well, I thought we’d win it but Obama got it.”

Girl reading Animal Farm at the bar: “This really depressed guy came by and made me promise him I’d start reading it. I got kind of into it. It’s pretty ironic, considering what’s going on tonight.”

Eva: “I don’t want to talk politics. I want to suck your dick.” MAX PLENKE