By the end of what proved to be a whirlwind Tuesday night, Lois Capps celebrated her victory as the incumbent in the race for California’s 23rd District congressional seat as President George W. Bush attempted to do the same – despite protests from the camp of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.

With 100 percent of precincts in Santa Barbara County reporting, Capps, a Democrat who has held the seat since 1998, had received 65.52 percent of the 79,819 votes cast. It was enough to beat out Republican challenger Don Regan – who received only 32.12 percent – by more than 25,000 votes. In the presidential race, the Electoral College count was excruciating: With 270 votes needed to clinch a victory, Bush had won 28 states for 254 votes as of 2:30 a.m. Wednesday. Kerry had won 19 states plus the District of Columbia for 252 votes.

After winning Nevada to inch closer to the 270 electoral votes required for a second term, Bush made plans to declare victory in Ohio and claim re-election was his no matter what the Kerry camp did. “We will not base our decision on a concession,” Bush adviser Dan Bartlett said.

A crowd of over 300 Democrats rooting for both Capps and 35th District Assembly candidate Pedro Nava began packing into El Paseo restaurant downtown at about 8 p.m. Many in the crowd, which eventually filled the restaurant almost to capacity, passed the time until the candidates arrived by talking politics and following the nationwide election results on a large television set tuned to CNN.

The atmosphere at the event was lively, and each new announcement of a state’s decision in the presidential election was met with cheers – or groans – from the audience, depending on whether or not the decision favored Kerry.

Florida fell into Bush’s lap with relative ease. Kerry took New Hampshire from Bush – the first and perhaps only state to switch parties – but it has just four electoral votes. That left Ohio as Kerry’s only hope.

President Bush climbed within 16 electoral votes of re-election early this morning and held a solid lead in the popular vote over Kerry, who insisted the race framed by war, terror and joblessness wasn’t over.

“We will fight for every vote,” Kerry’s running mate, Sen. John Edwards, told supporters in a scene eerily reminiscent of the Florida cliffhanger in 2000.

Capps arrived at the event shortly after 10 p.m., when early results had already indicated that she would be victorious. She was greeted by a cacophony of cheers and applause when she took the stage after being introduced by retiring 1st District Assemblywoman Naomi Schwartz, who Capps said has been a great supporter of her campaign.

Capps, whose victory Tuesday was her fourth successful re-election bid since she took office, told the audience she was extremely grateful for their hard work and faith in her over the past six years.

“Thank you for turning out in record numbers,” Capps said. “Thank you for being here tonight, and thank you for supporting me yet again.”

With the outcome of the presidential race still uncertain as of Tuesday night, Capps said she would continue to stand up for the communities she represents regardless of what happens in the other political races around the nation.

“No matter what happens with this election … we will fight with every last breath for what we have here,” Capps said.

Ceding nothing, Kerry dispatched Edwards to tell supporters in Boston, “We’ve waited four years for this victory. We can wait one more night.”

As for Bush, declaring victory would be nothing more than a weapon in political warfare. It has no bearing on who will serve as president a minute past noon Jan. 20, 2005, but the White House thought the tactic would undercut challenges and create a sense of inevitability about Bush’s second term.

During her speech, Capps drew some of the loudest cheers of the night when she addressed the members of the Campus Democrats present in the crowd. She later said their intense efforts, especially those directed at registering voters, have been a great benefit to her campaign and to the community as a whole.

“It has been amazing,” Capps said. “It’s very humbling. I would like to say ‘thank you,’ especially to the students.”

Capps said she attributes much of her campaign’s success to workers who donate their time and effort by putting up posters and fliers, going door to door, tabling and sending out mail.

“It’s so incredibly labor intensive,” Capps said. “We had more volunteers than ever before.”

While Capps said she approaches all of her elections with the same mindset, she said some of her previous re-election campaigns have been more hotly contested.

“It turned out that this one wasn’t so tough,” Capps said.

However, she said the anticipated cushion of votes garnered by the efforts of volunteers and paid campaign members allowed her to spend some time helping support Kerry’s campaign in crucial states like Ohio.

Marissa Brown, president of the Campus Democrats, said members of her organization have been working long hours to register voters on campus in addition to supporting political candidates. She said they helped produce a record number of newly registered voters on campus and in Isla Vista this year.

“We tabled all day, every day, since school started,” Brown said. “Now that it’s over, we will be working to build up our membership and strengthen the contacts we’ve made with new people.”

Brown said she is relieved that the election has finally arrived and that life can now begin to return to a more normal pace.

“It’s a breath of fresh air,” Brown said. “It’s been exciting, but now we can all breathe a sigh of relief.”

Jeremy Tittle, campaign manager for Capps, said his Election Day work began at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday and continued until the polls closed at 8 p.m. He said it would likely take some time before the realization set in that all of his hard work had finally paid off.

“It really hasn’t sunk in yet,” Tittle said. “The last few days we’ve just been running on adrenaline. To be honest, I haven’t thought much about life after today.”

Tittle, who graduated from UCSB in 2000 with a degree in political science, said he has been working for Capps for just over four and a half years. While this is his first year acting as campaign manager, he said working closely with her has been a very enjoyable learning experience.

“Lois is a wonderful person to work for,” Tittle said. “We’re blessed to have her as our boss.”