Parties big and small set for election night

Last month, Michael Kitchen was sitting in a bar when he had one of those moments – one of those crystallizing, eye-popping moments.

He was watching the last presidential debate, and every time someone tried to turn the TV down and the music up, the bar crowd got mad.

“They didn't want to miss a word,” Kitchen says. “It was very important to them to hear everything. You see something like that, and you know this is a special time.”

Kitchen, a Charlotte promoter, is throwing an election party Tuesday in NoDa. It is just one of the many parties, big and small, taking place election night, as Charlotteans brace for what some expect to be a historic event.

Regardless of whom you support – John McCain or Barack Obama – Tuesday's result holds the promise of something unique.

It could mean the election of the nation's first black president, an achievement that many have waited a lifetime to see. It also could mean the election of the first female vice president. Either way, America is riveted.

“Regardless of who wins, it will be a moment we will remember for a long time,” said Christian Greve, chairman of the Mecklenburg County Young Republicans.

Eric Heberlig, a UNC Charlotte political science professor, said this year reminds him of when John F. Kennedy was elected president. As an Irish Catholic, his victory was seen as an important step for Irish Americans.

“It was my grandfather's proudest moment when Kennedy was elected, and this election resonates in the same manner,” he said.

A tanking economy and a war overseas has combined this year with discussions of race and gender to create a political season of unusually high interest.

More than 51 million people watched the last presidential debate – about 36 million more than watched baseball's league championship games that night.

Given such high interest, it is not surprising that many locals have made plans for election night.

Some, like Kitchen, are organizing big parties. Kitchen has worked this year with Generation Engage, a youth-oriented nonpartisan organization that aims to get young people involved in politics. On Tuesday. the group is throwing an election night party at Alive in NoDa. Hundreds are expected.

Other big parties are scheduled for Jillian's restaurant, Petra's Piano Bar, McCabe's Steakhouse Restaurant in Kannapolis, Dilworth Neighborhood Grill and Kiss Lounge, off Woodlawn Road.

“We are looking for between 300 and 400 people,” said Marcus Carson, the organizer of the Kiss Lounge party. “We expect it to be a powerful moment, once the results are announced.”

Others, like Karen Franklin of South Charlotte, prefer low-key affairs. Franklin is throwing a neighborhood party. Everyone is invited, regardless of party affiliation.

She said this election is one of the most important in her life. She said she knew this year was different when her 13-year-old son started racing home after school and checking the online version of the electoral map.

“It has reached a whole new level,” she said.

Jamin Gardner, 37, said he plans to invite a handful of friends over to his house for a night of music, drinks and celebration. The Charlotte landscaper said he expects to miss work Wednesday if his candidate wins.

And if his candidate loses?

“I may just take a stiff slug of something and drown my sorrows,” he said. “Either way, I'm probably not making it to work the next day.”