On Election Night, most of the people involved in political campaigns aren’t thinking with their stomachs.
“I know we’re ordering pizzas,” said Dan Drummond, campaign manager for U.S. Rep. Jim Moran’s (D) re-election bid.
“We’ve never had a catered affair,” said Lucy Denney, of the Arlington Democratic Committee. “Food isn’t a big deal. That’s just not the Democratic Way.”
For most campaigns, finger food, often coming on the cheap, is the norm for Election Night. It’s a practical consideration, according to Mike Lane.
Lane is managing Scott Tate’s bid to unseat Moran, and has run many Republican campaigns, including a few of his own, over the last decade and a half in Northern Virginia. A catered affair on election night doesn’t make sense, in campaign economics.
“We’re trying to keep expenses as low as possible,” he said. “Typically, we end up buying party platters from Safeway, Giant or Price Club. That’s 99 percent of the way we cater our stuff.”
Party platters can be big business in early November, said Barry Scher, spokesman for Giant Foods. “We sell a tremendous number of party platters every November,” he said. It’s not as big as Super Bowl Sunday, or other big football weekends, Scher said. “But it’s significant.”
Those platters can still be somewhat pricey, selling for $30 and up. But they offer a range of foods, Scher said, all quick, easy, and already made for Election Night parties. “It’s not only the political parties, it’s average Joes like you or me having a party,” Scher said. “I’m having one. I’ll have three TV sets going and my computer. I’m a political junkie.”
OTHERS ARE TURNING Election Night into a night to feast. Caterers in the area say that election night often brings large, and sometimes unusual, orders.
“We do our fair share” of election parties, said Bill Holman, owner of Design Cuisine in Shirlington. Design Cuisine ranks as one of the larger caterers in the Washington region, and Holman said that means catering election parties in Maryland, Virginia and the District. “They’re generally basic party pick-up fare,” he said.
Dinners have to be booked well ahead of election night, so the menu has to accommodate the stomachs of winners or losers. Comfort food is a must, Holman said.
“It’s pretty simple, nothing complicated. We’re doing a lot of stews, and mashed potatoes. So if you lose, you’re still comfortable.”
But there are requests that require a little more preparation, menu items anticipating a particular outcome at the polls. “This year, we’re doing a cake in the shape of Maryland,” Holman said. “There’s something with the car tax, car-shaped cookies, and we’re doing a big cake topped with a newspaper front page, with who’s supposed to win in the headline.”
ELECTION PARTIES DON’T account for a huge spike in business, Holman said, at least not this year. “We did a lot more during the presidential election.”
That’s true at Red Hot & Blue as well. The franchise got its start in Arlington, financed in part by the late Lee Atwater, chair of the Republican National Committee in the late 1980s and the campaign manager for the successful presidential bid of George H. W. Bush.
The barbecue chain saw a flurry of business during the 2000 campaign, and in the aftermath, during the inauguration of George W. Bush.
“When Bush came to the White House, we never sold so much beef brisket,” said Sheila Dukes, director of catering for Red Hot & Blue. “A lot of people do order ribs, but we see more beef brisket, as the Texas influence comes to Washington.”
The restaurants have been called on to cater many affairs for the Republican National Committee, and catered some inaugural events as well. Given their early association with Atwater, Red Hot & Blue restaurants may get a disproportionate amount of Republican business.
“We’re not a partisan restaurant, though we may have been perceived that way in the beginning,” Dukes said. “We get calls from Democrats on the Hill every once in a while.”
This year is something of a slow year for the chain, though. The Arlington Republicans have had some affairs catered by Red Hot & Blue, but they’re only at the end of the year, Lane said.
So on Tuesday night, there were just a few deliveries, Dukes said: “some deliveries to the AP, to the news stations… places that are open late.”
EVEN POLITICAL OPERATIVES have to eat, though, and the parties in Arlington and Alexandria won’t only be ordering pizzas and finger food.
Moran’s presumed victory party will be held at the Radisson Hotel in Old Town. Arlington Democrats will get together to watch returns at the Rock Bottom Brewery in Ballston Common Mall. Tate will join other Republican candidates for a party at the Springfield Hilton.
Like local caterers, hotels expect bigger Election Night bashes every four years. But this year’s crowd may be larger than the standard mid-term election, said Kathryn Dick, the hotel’s catering manager.
“It runs its own life,” she said. “They don’t call very far in advance. Normally, every year, two weeks before the election we’re swamped with calls. Certainly it’s the craziest Tuesday night out of the year.”
The fare at this year’s party will center on standard hors d’oeuvres, Dick said. “A lot of finger sandwiches, chicken tenders, cheese boards – very relaxed.” Does that mean pigs in a blanket? “We call them cocktail franks in puff pastry, but yes,” she said.
This year’s party has prompted some unusual requests, however.
“We’ve had a couple people request Virginia ham, and Virginia wines,” Dick said. “We do have one candidate where we’re catering to a low-carb diet.”
It’s a full fare for campaign workers. But it’s a thin replacement for life before and after election nights, said Mary Tate. When her husband’s not running for office, “he’s a good man in the kitchen. Scott loves to cook,” she said. “In general, on election eve he’s at the polls, talking to voters. But we’ve got three kids, and we try to get them around the table.”