YOU FEEL LIKE a pretty big dork when you're at a political celebration. You really begin to question your career choice when you load up at the bar, scout for hookups and suddenly think: Do rock star parties have podiums? That's when you realize that even if you made it to the coolest clique -- the Paris Hilton level of politics -- you'd be spending most of the evening avoiding being asked to dance by Karl Rove.
The lameness of election night parties is especially obvious in California, where you're in close proximity to movie premieres, the Playboy Mansion and Shane Black's house.
Tonight may host the saddest party of all time. At 8 p.m. in the 10,000-square-foot Grand Nave Room at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Sacramento, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides will be hosting his victory party. If you're the kind of person who likes the crudite tray all to yourself, it might be worth driving up there. I wouldn't worry too much about not being on the invite list. There isn't one.
Because people don't want to vote for a loser, politicians with absolutely no chance maintain false optimism right up until the concession speech. So Angelides has had to spend lots of money throwing a huge victory party even though he's been 18 points behind in the polls. He knows no one is going to stay past 8:15, but he can't risk telling the hotel that appetizer hour should really be appetizer quarter-hour. So the bar will be open until midnight -- and they're prepared to go longer if necessary.
"There is no plan for a loss," explains Angelides spokesman Nick Papas. "We are preparing to win this thing. That's how we've set up." That means Angelides had to ask people to blow up balloons. There's nothing sadder than blowing up balloons you know are never going to fall. Other than maybe being Angelides' spokesman. The whole thing is a weird ritual humiliation. It's like planning a wedding, knowing the groom isn't showing up. Then having the videographer force you to make a speech about it.
Meanwhile, Arnold Schwarzenegger's party is at the Beverly Hilton, home to the Golden Globes and the Oscar nominee luncheon. Unlike Angelides' party, it will be adorned with celebrities, falling balloons and not being in Sacramento. This, of course, will only make the Angelides party sadder. Normally you lose to some other pasty white guy who also wasn't popular in high school. But losing to an action hero -- in a year when his party is reviled, in a state that's as blue as Angelides' mood will be -- really makes you realize that politics is a personality contest. And it's no fun to be at the party of the guy who lost the personality contest. That's why I never threw a party in high school. Or college. Or the 10 years after college.
Even some of the ballot-initiative victory parties will be cooler than the Angelides one -- and those have e-vites that list the host as "Proposition 87." That's the one backed by Selma Hayek, James Caan, Jamie Lee Curtis, Richard Branson and Elizabeth Hurley impregnator Steve Bing. It sucks when a confusing oil extraction tax proposal throws a better rager than you do.
The only place sadder than the Angelides party will be the victory party for the people fighting against Proposition 83, the Jessica's Law initiative that three-quarters of voters support. There's nothing sadder than sipping goopy Australian shiraz with a room of depressed ACLU lawyers and child molesters. That's a group of people in really bad suits.
So tonight, if you're near Sacramento, stop by the ballroom level of the Sheraton and grab a drink. Because Phil Angelides played his tragic role with a smile, sacrificing a little bit of dignity for the last six months to force Schwarzenegger to sharpen his policies and, more important, to make sure you had a choice even if you didn't want one.