For all political junkies it is always the saddest of sights — the election night "victory party" that makes a Vatican papal succession conclave look like Weekend at Bernie's.
Tuesday night the downtown Tampa Hyatt Hotel ballroom was supposed to be the site of the grand celebration of Mitt Romney's capturing of the White House. All the patriotic bunting was hung with care. Bars were set up and ready for the hordes of euphoric Republicans to start guzzling. The spread of food was ample and enticing.
Yet for some reason, the crowd seemed woefully small and subdued, even in the early hours of the evening when hope should have been very much alive.
It was probably an early omen things might not turn out so well for the Romney camp when GOP dignitaries who were scheduled to appear suddenly found other things to do with their time — like strip wallpaper.
Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater were all missing in action. Only Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam showed up, which would suggest perhaps somebody knew something that Romney was heading for his own Electoral College cliff.
Campaigns are organic enterprises. Forget about party affiliation. Forget about positions on issues. Running for office is more, much more, than simply a candidate cavorting about waving at cars and knocking on doors.
Campaigns are about people, often scores of people who have thrown their allegiance behind a given candidate. Some are volunteers, donors or simply those who agree to put a sign in their yards. But all of these folks make an emotional investment in the pol of their choice.
And, in the end, 50 percent of them wind up having their hearts broken, staring into their beer on election night and wondering to themselves how the body politic could be so wrong about the other guy.
I'm no fan of state Sen. Ronda Storms, who lost her bid to become the Hillsborough property appraiser to Bob Henriquez.
And the demagogic Terry Kemple, a religious zealot who lost to Carol Kurdell for a seat on the Hillsborough School Board and who would have turned our classrooms into evangelical madrasas, makes my skin crawl.
Then there was Hillsborough County Commission tea party candidate and sometime psychic devotee Margaret Iuculano, who had her tarot cards handed to her by incumbent Kevin Beckner. First, Beckner four years ago had to beat former wrestler Brian Blair who used to dress up in bumblebee Speedos. Then he had to knock off Jeane Dixon-lite. Beckner either leads a charmed life or he simply draws opponents from the Star Wars bar scene.
The one thing Storms, Kemple and Iuculano all share is that they also had to face supporters on election night and concede their defeat.
This is never easy. All candidates — no matter the odds against them — believe they can win. It's what keeps them going.
Running for office is the hardest work you might ever undertake if you do it right. It involves long hours, thousands of hands to shake, lives put on hold and people who believe in you. Then you lose.
So for the likes of Storms, Kemple and Iuculano and all the others who came up short on election night, at least you had the courage to run, at least you were willing to run the risk of failure.
And for that alone, you deserve some respect. But please don't run again.