Democrats vow to regroup as the most audacious hopes fade

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Democrat activists gathered in New York last night eager to grasp at good news from state races even as key seats elsewhere fell to Tea Partiers and resurgent Republicans.

And the mood was a defiant one, that dismissed the midterm setback as a historical inevitability that would only make them redouble efforts to reassemble the fragmented coalition that brought Barack Obama to power. As party members and grandees from the Empire State assembled at the Sheraton hotel in midtown Manhattan and strained to hear the latest results from across the country, there was confidence that the crusading Democrat attorney general would be elevated to the governorship on a ticket to clean up the corruption-riddled state capitol.

Andrew Cuomo had fought a dogged campaign – "As if I were 10 points behind," he always said – despite being a front-runner from the start. His work bringing law suits against Wall Street bigwigs and mortgage companies in the aftermath of the sub-prime crisis had turned him into a national figure on a par with predecessor Eliot Spitzer, whose own ambitions to higher office might have been being discussed were it not for a prostitution scandal that brought him down.

As Coldplay songs blared from the ballroom ahead of what attendees hoped would be a rousing victory speech from Mr Cuomo, activists stuck to their predictions that pollsters had been underestimating the turnout from left-leaning younger voters, who had been the focus of an increasing barrage of campaign email messages in the final days and hours of the race.

"Turnout is very important and I don't think the Democrats have lost their ability to bring out the vote," said Gary Reilly, who had been mobilising supporters in Brooklyn since the crack of dawn yesterday. "It's all about the economy, and Democrats are hurting just like everybody else. We are being stoic, not going out screaming about things that aren't true, and I don't think we will hand over the keys to the economy to the drunks who drove us into the ditch."

While Tea Party fervour swept the relative unknown Carl Paladino to the Republican nomination, it could not overcome the millionaire property developer's shortcomings as a candidate. Seeming to embody the angriness that Democrats fear is at the heart of the Tea Party movement, he alienated gays, including a nephew who had been volunteering for his campaign, by declaring "that's not the example that we should be showing our children", and lashed out at a tabloid reporter who had been asking about his personal life, threatening to "take him out".

Mr Cuomo, meanwhile, kept his cool and cemented his reputation as one of the Democrats' rising stars, long discussed as a potential future presidential candidate.