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Republicans watch with surprise as Donald Trump pulls off the unexpected in 2016 election

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Posted at 2:36 AM, Nov 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-09 06:33:23-05

CINCINNATI -- The cheers grew louder every time a Fox News anchor announced the Republican presidential nominee had won a new state. 

First came Ohio -- which produced an expected win with a surprisingly wide margin.

“This is like watching the seventh game of the World Series,” said U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Cincinnati. “I’m surprised it’s this close.” 

Then the Florida win drew anxious yelps and applause. But when Trump took Wisconsin, they roared with confidence. They knew: Donald Trump would be the next president.

In between the whoops and hollers, Republicans and Trump supporters watched in awe as results unfold at the Hamilton County’s Republican Party’s election night watch party Tuesday night.

“The world’s going to wake up and be shocked tomorrow,” former Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann said.

Shortly before midnight, Hartmann was one of the few local Republican Party stalwarts still hanging around to see final results unfold at the GOP’s watch party. The party’s chairman was nowhere to be found at the Downtown bar nor were the two Republican candidates running for the Hamilton County Commission seats, two of the most high-profile jobs in the county.

Instead the room was filled with a handful of Trump loyalists as Election night came to a close. 

“Actually, don’t call me a Republican,” said Jeff Parker, a 55-year-old from Madeira said who campaigned for Trump.

“I’ll just eat their hors d'oeuvres,” he joked.

A few party loyalists looked around to find they didn’t know many people in the room. This victory party didn’t resemble the ones the GOP hosted in 2004, for example, when Republican George W. Bush racked up big wins in Hamilton County, Ohio and, ultimately, across the country.

“The Bush victories -- there were 10 times the people here,” Hartmann said as about two dozen people crowded around the TV.

Some whispered about what version of Trump -- the measured, teleprompter businessman or the unpredictable, loose-talking salesman -- would ascend to the chair of the Oval Office. 

Others thought about how moderate Republicans like Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who many believed was plotting a 2020 run for president if Trump lost the election, would react.

Many wondered -- what will the Republican Party look like tomorrow, next month or two years from now?

One thing was certain: Change is coming. Or, maybe it was already here. 

Trump didn’t have a strong ground game, his opponent outspent him and employed nearly double the staff he did in crucial swing states such as Ohio.

Yet, still he pulled off such big and unexpected wins that many Republicans speculated that the world of politicking and campaigning would never be the same. If Trump doesn’t need to deploy ground troops to knock doors or put in hundreds of phone calls, maybe the GOP has their campaign formula wrong. 

“Take the text books and throw them out the window,” said Hamilton County Commissioner and Republican Chris Monzel as TV networks continued to call states for Trump. “Folks are fed up with the status quo.”

Even as Republicans took in an unexpected victory of winning the White House, they mourned losses in local races.

The closely-watched Hamilton County Commissioner’s race, while too close to call, was leaning toward Democrat Denise Driehaus by the end of the night. And little-known Democrat Aftab Pureval pulled off a surprise by defeating incumbent Republican Tracy Winkler for the court clerk job.

For some time, even as Trump racked up win after win, the county’s Republicans seem more distracted by the down-ballot contests -- featuring friends or longtime colleagues -- they were losing, Ben Galego noticed.

Galego, a 49-year-old Trump supporter from Jupiter, Florida, was in Cincinnati for a work trip Tuesday. He was looking for a place to watch election results and heard about Hamilton County’s GOP watch party.

“They seem more worried about the local races,” Galego said. 

Not Galego, though. He came to watch Trump win Tuesday night.

“It’s the best thing ever,” Galego said a few minutes after Fox News projected Trump would win his home state. “I woke up in Florida thinking he was going to win.”