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UW Election Eye 2012

Campaign 2012 through the eyes of UW faculty and students

February 4, 2012 at 8:10 PM

The War Room: Where Nevada votes are counted

Panorama of the War Room

LAS VEGAS — The Palazzo Hotel’s Dos Caminos restaurant is the temporary home of the Nevada caucus – “First in the West!” — press filing room. We gained entrance a few hours ago. What the room has in clever Americana décor, it lacks in media enthusiasm.

Scattered around the largely empty space were a handful of reporters, quietly clacking away on their laptops, with elevated plasma televisions projecting Google’s election website. Periodically, a news crew sauntered up to the vacant podium to film a results speculation, but otherwise the room was calm. A back-lit Google sign hung over the complementary goodies in the corner — vases of M&Ms arranged by color, rows of fruit and swag sunglasses. .

We idled here for two hours with little activity earlier this morning. But then we were ready for more.

Enter Ryan Mahoney, a young Communications and Research spokesperson for the Republican National Committee. He was our “in” to what the Nevada GOP was calling the War Room: where county caucus results were aggregated and general election oversight took place.

We followed Mahoney past the casino floor, passing a huge fire-breathing Chinese dragon — not kidding — as we chatted amicably about Twitter and Mahoney’s love of politics. (Oh and there’s also a waterfall decorated with oversized Chinese coins and lanterns — the place is ridiculous in the best way.)

Mahoney navigated the convoluted hotel briskly, obviously familiar with its labyrinth of high-end shops, Italian restaurants and Blue Man Group ticket counters. By the time we popped inside an elevator, I was at a loss for our location. Just as he intended.

As we rose through the floors, Mahoney juggled his cell phones — one personal, one work — alternating between texting on one and receiving urgent calls on the other. We emerged on the third floor and headed down a romantically lit hallway to a circular hub of narrower passageways. I looked around the spokes of tunneled options and felt like I was in Hogwarts. You have to choose the right door, Harry.

Mahoney had no hesitation and continued down an ornately carpeted hallway. We zoomed past locked hotel rooms, interspersed with amber chandeliers, and arrived at a nondescript door — number 3-227.

Mahoney told us to wait so he could warn the inhabitants of our arrival, so we huddled by the entrance awaiting photo permission. We had heard scuttlebutt that the location was a last minute development, that the operation was supposed to be housed in a ground level meeting room but was moved by Super Bowl festivities.

A TV centered between two wide windows broadcast Ron Paul’s speech in Minnesota at that moment, and a reclined man in jeans and tan suit jacket watched the proceedings intently. Four black phones sat silent on the coffee table beside him. Ten other men filled the room. Almost every other flat surface carried a glowing laptop or a cadre of half-empty water bottles and coffee cups. A heap of leftover sandwiches sat untouched on a round table outside the kitchenette.

To my surprise given the room’s name, there were no uniformed generals.

A man with a legal pad took down our names and news affiliation. I glimpsed “NPR” a few strokes above us.

We moved to photograph a cluster of intent gentlemen hunched over a desktop computer in the corner, but were quickly shooed away from the screen.

So this was the holy grail of voting results, I thought.

Andrew Fitzgerald, a content and program manager for Twitter, stepped away from the crowd and cheerily introduced himself. He was overseeing the caucus tweeting logistics, and he said everything had gone smoothly thus far.

My UW Election Eye colleague Corey Christiansen chatted up Fitzgerald about data streams and tech lingo. Mahoney, who’d been checking in with other party members, asked us to take the impromptu interview outside. Our five minutes in the War Room were up.

Fitzgerald was happy to oblige. He followed us into the hallway and chatted for a few more minutes, before heading back inside. I decided I was a big fan of friendly Twitter staffers.

Mahoney guided us back to the lobby floor via a different elevator, further disorienting my sense of place. The War Room’s location would retain its mystery.

As we neared the press room, I pressed Mahoney for a brief on-the-record interview. He was fielding phone calls right and left, so it took some convincing. Eventually our GOP Sherpa relented. Here is what he said:

Corey Christiansen contributed to this report.

Comments | Topics: caucus, Caucuses, counting votes

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