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AUSTIN, Texas -- At 7 p.m. Central Standard Time, the crowd that was assembled at the corner of 11th and Congress was ready for a party. Ten thousand strong, they had come from all over the Lone Star State to celebrate a historic Election Night with their governor and hometown favorite, Republican George W. Bush. From young college students to seasoned political old-timers, they represented a surprisingly large spectrum of the political world -- even by usually homogeneous GOP standards. And as the clock wore down through the night, none of them had any idea of the political roller coaster that was in store. "I'm disappointed. Looks like it's going to be a long night," South Austin resident Bruce Felder said at about 10 p.m., when most returns still indicated that Vice President Al Gore was leading by a very thin margin. "We were hoping that it would be a quicker victory, but I'm still confident that the governor will pull it out," Felder added. While beer and soda flowed freely from the taps of curbside vendors -- and a lineup of country music acts paraded on stage to pass the time between incoming election returns -- the crowd kept their Texas-sized celebration going well into the night. They kept partying when the temperature dipped to a very un-Texas-like 40 degrees. They kept partying when CNN gave Gore an early lead in several key battleground states. They even kept partying when the country music gave way to Wayne Newton and a seemingly endless loop of taped Ricky Martin music. But through it all, most still maintained hope that the night would end with the hometown boy getting that big job in Washington. "As governor, I supported [Bush] over Ann Richards and I've been very pleased with the way he's handled our state government," Felder said shortly after CNN rescinded their early call of Bush's loss in Florida. "I was a big supporter of his dad -- even though I thought he made a few mistakes -- and I think the whole Bush family exemplifies the best family values," he added. "Gov. Bush will make an excellent president. By midnight, most of the Austin crowd was still there, still partying in the shadow of the Texas state capitol building; though noticeably bothered by the tense race and the rapidly falling temperature. But at about 1 a.m., when the skies opened up and a torrential rain fell upon the Texas capital city, most of the crowd -- especially those older than 40 -- did precisely what Bush campaign officials wanted least: They went home. So, at 1:17 a.m. CST, when the Fox News Network kicked off the evening's latest round of haphazard forecasting and declared Bush the nation's next president, the only people still left to celebrate the apparent Republican victory were a mishmosh of area college students, young Austin professionals and just a few diehard political buffs. "I'm so excited!" Austin resident Devota Swenson said. "I never thought the election would be this close. I'm cold and I'm wet, but it's definitely worth being here." Swenson's exuberance, though, was somewhat premature. While she and the 5,000 or so remaining celebrants waited out the impending arrival of the victorious candidate, someone in a polling office somewhere far away realized that Florida voters still had yet to definitively make up their minds. The crowd waited. And waited. And waited. And then, at about 3:30 a.m. -- after watching the cautiously worded addresses of Gore campaign chairman Bill Daley and Bush chairman Don Evans -- they went home, leaving the once-massive street party that never really had a reason to celebrate. The next morning, all that remained of the Election Night celebration in Austin was a group of workmen deconstructing the screens, scaffolding and media stands that had been erected to support what was expected to be a major event in American political history. But like their counterparts all over the nation, the people of Austin spent all day Wednesday just waiting -- hanging on for some indication of how the most contested presidential race in 125 years would finally turn out. While the eventual decision, it now appears, will be reached in Florida rather than Bush's home state, the people of Austin still feel they are at the center of the political universe. And they're still waiting for the party.

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