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We can celebrate, too



Joyful screams and shouts bounced off the downtown buildings, cutting through the cool pre-winter breeze. Horns were honking, banners waving, strangers hugging only because they shared in this wondrous moment.

It was 9:15 p.m., and the world had just heard the official news: Barack Obama would be the next president of the United States.

The celebration was just beginning Tuesday night. Right here in the kingdom of Republicans, it was OK to show some euphoria. What took place around that intersection of Pikes Peak and Cascade avenues over the next few hours provided a telling resemblance to the rest of the country.

Inside the Antlers Hilton, nearly a thousand delirious Democrats gathered for their $20-a-head celebration, and the fervent atmosphere was unlike anything ever seen from the party that usually has lived in the shadows here. Even those who didn't win were upbeat, like congressional candidate Hal Bidlack, who told the group, "Keep the big picture in mind."

Then, when Obama came on the projection screen, and the monitors around that ballroom, telling the nation that "tonight is your answer ... all things are possible," the raucous cheers would've made Chicago proud. It was truly remarkable, the electricity that swept through the room, filled with so many excited people, from kids to seniors but many in that vital 18-to-35 age group.

Standing in a far corner, one of Colorado Springs' most revered African-American leaders let it all soak in.

Norvell Simpson, 77 and going strong after more than four decades as an influential force here, kept nodding and applauding as Obama gave his message of hope.

"This is wonderful. It's unbelievable. I'm so glad I lived to see this day," said Simpson, who proceeded to dance the night away surrounded by young adults, many of them campaign workers who could've been his grandkids.

Skin color aside, Simpson and many others instantly grasped the meaning, and the potential, of such a vibrant nucleus of local Democrats. Elsewhere in the crowd, others closely involved with the Obama organization locally talked in ambitious tones. They want to build on this, using many inspired volunteers to fill more and more grassroots, precinct-level positions, developing a stronger, permanent Democratic presence.

As that party kept going toward midnight, the despair was equally obvious across the street. On the third floor of Phantom Canyon Brewing Co., most of El Paso County's "old guard" Republicans gathered to await the hoped-for victory of 1A, the sales-tax hike for public safety and health. They also were counting on the defeat of Questions 200 and 201, authored by Douglas Bruce to rip apart the Stormwater Enterprise and other city operations.

Mayor Lionel Rivera was there, along with other city councilors, county commissioners, Sheriff Terry Maketa, civic leaders, even state Attorney General John Suthers. But just after 9 p.m., their anticipation crashed: Word came of Obama's victory over John McCain, and the first local results showed 1A going down in flames. It was clear that 200 and 201 would, too, but still, the mood among those GOP mainstays ranged from deflated to devastated, as groups huddled to commiserate and watch McCain's concession.

This also was only a portion of the local Republican hierarchy, with the rest out north enjoying the victories of U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, as well as those of Keith King and other state legislators. But that split, and lack of area unity, also was a reflection of the GOP's national defeat.

In the end, what happened in El Paso County provided some encouraging benchmarks for the future: 40 percent for Obama, actually 104,670 votes (not counting provisionals), easily the best local showing by a modern-era Democrat. And the county now has another Democrat in the state House, thanks to Dennis Apuan's apparent victory in District 17. Also, Amendment 48, the new definition of personhood, lost 62 percent to 38 percent here while being clobbered statewide.

It was all worth celebrating, because it doesn't feel like a fluke. Instead, there's as much hope for Dems today in Colorado Springs as in the rest of America.

And if you don't believe that, you must not have been downtown Tuesday night.

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