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Bernie Sanders fans gather at Colorado's Bernie Sanders Campaign Headquarters in Denver on Super Tuesday. (Moe Clark, The Colorado Sun)

The mixed drinks. The cocktail wieners. The small talk. The joy of victory. The agony of defeat. 

Election night watch parties are a rite of passage for any candidate, an often-anxiety-filled exercise in thanking your supporters in celebration or, in the worst case, conceding that you came up short.

Coronavirus, the indiscriminate thief, has stolen — or at the very least changed — the time-tested ritual simultaneously loved and loathed by the political world. 

On Tuesday night, as results roll in from Colorado’s primaries, bars and restaurants and hotel ballrooms that serve as frequent haunts for the festivities will not be packed. Instead, candidates, for the most part, are turning to virtual watch parties or not holding events at all.

“Everybody is invited to my backyard over Zoom,” said state Rep. Jonathan Singer, who is running to be a Boulder County commissioner. “ We will be able to fit as many people as my internet will allow.”

People watch results stream in at the Colorado GOP’s election night watch party in Lone Tree on Nov. 6, 2018. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

For most candidates, the risk of exposing their friends and backers to the virus isn’t worth it. And right now gatherings in most of Colorado are required to be small. 

“Putting all of your strongest supporters who helped you win your election in the same room and hoping that they don’t get COVID is not a very good way to thank them for their work,” said state Sen. Jeff Bridges, a Greenwood Village Democrat who will be camping on election night. He doesn’t have a primary race to worry about, but likely would otherwise be attending a watch party.

In the marquee Democratic U.S. Senate primary, former Gov. John Hickenlooper and former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff will be gathering their supporters virtually on the video conference application Zoom. 

Romanoff’s campaign says he will make remarks once the outcome of the race is announced. 

It’s not clear if Hickenlooper will take a similar approach in offering remarks over video conference — win or lose. 

Rep. Colin Larson, a Littleton Republican who is locked in a tense primary contest, said he wasn’t going to host a watch party anyway, so he’s not fazed by the coronavirus keeping candidates at home.

Republican George Brauchler takes a picture of the crowd at the Colorado GOP watch party on Tuesday night, Nov. 6, 2018. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

“I’ll be at my house with Annie and Cora clicking refresh on the Jefferson County elections homepage until the results post,” he said of his wife and daughter. 

His plan, if he wins, is to breathe a sigh of relief and then cook dinner for his family.

“If I don’t win,” he said, “I will do probably pretty much the same thing.”

MORE: It’s Election Day in Colorado. Here’s what to watch in the primary and what you need to know to vote.

The one campaign that told The Colorado Sun they are hosting an in-person primary watch party is that of Lauren Boebert, a Republican running to unseat incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton of Cortez. Boebert’s campaign says supporters will be gathering to watch the results roll in at a restaurant and bar in Grand Junction.

Boebert’s own restaurant, Shooter’s Grill in Rifle, was shut down by Garfield County health officials after she reopened in defiance of coronavirus safety orders.

A few empty tables and chairs sit outside of the Shooters Grill in Rifle, which has had its license suspended by Garfield County after owner Lauren Boebert opened the restaurant for business in defiance of the county’s emergency coronavirus closure orders. (Gretel Daugherty, Special to the Colorado Sun)

Her campaign didn’t respond to a question about why she decided to host an in-person watch party.

Political strategists say it’s important that the candidates dress up, even if they plan to stay home and host virtual watch parties. They don’t want to be caught off guard if they’re needed for a television interview or must record a speech.

“Your appearance counts,” said Laura Chapin, a Democratic strategist.

Democrat Joe Neguse addresses supporters after his victory in November 2018. (John Frank, The Colorado Sun)

Chapin is someone who would likely be at a watch party on Tuesday night if it weren’t for the pandemic. Where will she be as the results pour in?

“I’m going to be hanging out with my phone,” she said, “and a glass of wine.” 

Email: Twitter: @laurenirwin88

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....