FAIRFAX, Va. -- The mood among supporters of President Barack Obama shortly before he took the stage at a Friday morning rally in Fairfax, Va., was pleasantly abnormal. Attendees said they were calm and cautiously optimistic about the state of the race, a far cry from the abject panic that had paralyzed them the week prior.
Much of it was owed to the president's strong second debate performance several nights before in Hempstead, N.Y. Obama-backers took heart in the zest he exhibited in attacking Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. That, combined with the stability the debate helped create in several swing-state polls, and Democrats were breathing a bit easier.
The calm also was owed, however, to the emotional weariness Democrats have begun to feel over the past two weeks. Simply put: Obama's most ardent supporters are growing more calloused to the roller coaster that is the final weeks of a presidential election.
It hasn't been an easy task. Attendees at the George Mason University event described various means used to cope with political panic, whether prompted by a poor debate performance or a particularly gnawing poll.
"Lipitor," said Edward Kimmel, an attorney, when asked how he stays calm. "I am a political junkie. I see all the talk. It makes me nervous. The first debate was tough. That was kind of like when Ted Kennedy died and we were watching health care slip away, or the night of the 2010 elections. But that just makes me work harder. I wanted to get out and go to work."
As much as it was a depressing display of political sluggishness, Obama's first debate was also a galvanizing moment for his backers. Several said that they were prompted to volunteer -- either by making phone calls or knocking on doors -- because of the abject fear that came with watching their candidate fumble what seemed to be a comfortable lead. But often it required getting over the initial hysteria.
"I felt like I was going to cry," said Nancy Aboulmouna, of Arlington. "I have not yet. Not yet. I just wanted to. I talked to my parents and friends. But then I found out that some of them were Romney supporters and it got worse from there."
Faced with a campaign narrative not to their liking, some Obama supporters simply tuned out. Johana Posada, 25, of Arlington, said she stopped paying attention to the polls when they began to go south for Obama after that first debate. Lillie Reynolds, who came to Virginia via Mobile, Ala., said she put her faith in the divine rather than the daily tracking polls.
"I talked to the Lord when this campaign started and he told me what was going to happen," she explained. "We see each day in the day but we can't see November 6th. You don't get nervous about today because there is always tomorrow."
As such, Reynolds says she was "fine" with how the first Romney-Obama showdown transpired. "'People are so stupid,' that's what I said after that first debate."
For others, however, turning off the TV, closing the computer, or placing election outcomes into the hands of God is, simply put, too hard to do.
Bob McDonald, a D.C.-native who made the 40-minute trek to hear Obama speak, said he "freaked out a couple weeks ago" after the president stumbled at the Denver debate. "I wanted the president to come back and defend himself more forcefully."
But instead of turning off the television after the debate was over, McDonald kept on watching.
"Chris Matthews was unbelievable," he said of the MSNBC host, whose utter disbelief over -- and lengthy criticism of --the president's performance capped off the evening. "He channeled my frustrations perfectly."
When McDonald finally went to bed, he tossed and turned for more than an hour. "I had trouble sleeping that night," he said.
Sleep deprivation was, indeed, a common theme. Several others copped to checking real estate listings in Canada (though those claims were always accompanied by a disclaimer that a cross-border move wasn't likely). None confessed to hitting the bottle. A long walk around the block was more commonly cited as a remedy for election-related panic.
Steve Kent, 56, of Fairfax, was one of the few who sought solace in writing. "He takes his frustrations out on his blog," explained his wife, Cynthia Kent.
But pouring your darkest political fears into a website comes with a downside: opening you up to the very information that feeds those fears. "I love reading MSNBC's 'First Read'," said Steve Kent. "On the bad days, I'm not so happy doing it. But I read it anyway."
He's a masochist, he acknowledges. "Some days though, it makes me very happy. And in the end, I do have faith that Obama will win."
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