On Thursday night, Republicans finally took the lead.
After seven years of Democratic rule, Republicans notched their first win in eight years on the field at Nationals Park, with an 8-7 win over Democrats at the 2016 annual Congressional baseball game. The win ended the Republicans' longest drought in the game's recent history, despite Democrats' six-run rally in the sixth inning that briefly claimed the lead. But Republicans recouped after the Democrats’ last-minute decision to switch in Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fl., as pitcher, and scored two more runs to win the game outright.
GOP fans taunted Murphy, a contender for a U.S. Senate seat in Florida in November with chants of incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio's name. Democratic fans in return, jeered, "You've got Trump," alluding to presumptive nominee Donald Trump's unpopularity among factions of the Republican Party.
Clouds hung heavy threatening rain throughout the evening, and during the sixth inning drenched attendees in a brief downpour. But Democrat and Republican supporters remained in the stands until the end of the seven-inning game, prompting wild cheering from red-clad supporters gathered on the right side of the field.
The Republicans' victory briefly looked in doubt despite a strong start. Republicans gained an early 4-1 lead in the first half of the game, prompting supporters in the stands to jump to their feet, chanting "GOP, GOP." Meanwhile, members of Team Democrat, bearing rainbow-patterned wristbands, only scored their first run in the fourth inning. The wristbands were a likely nod to the LGBTQ victims of the June 12 Orlando shooting, which had inspired nearly two weeks of protests, including a 24-hour sit-in to demand gun control votes.
There were few signs of the tension between both parties at the start of Thursday’s game. Staffers for competing lawmakers sported campaign t-shirts as their identifying paraphernalia: Rep. Steve Scalise’s staffers wore Team Scalise t-shirts in red, and Patrick Murphy’s supporters, vexed by the presence of the similarly named Chris Murphy, were forced to clarify their "Team Murphy" shirts with a "Florida 2016" postscript. Even staffers for lawmakers not present on the field sported their boss’ gear — several attendees walked into Nationals Park with Justin Amash campaign shirts.
The signs were similarly witty. One attendee carried a sign with a donkey emoji drawn in to convey the message "Democrats kick [ass]." The sign carried some truth, given Democrats' past winning streak for the entirety of President Barack Obama's term.
Several Democrats on Thursday night’s team had participated in the Senate filibuster and House sit-in in the last two weeks, including Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y. and Reps. Pete Aguilar and Eric Swalwell of California. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., led the filibuster last week that forced Republicans to vote on the gun control measures that eventually failed the 60-vote threshold.
The congressional baseball game bills itself as “the only annual partisan showdown beloved by all and enjoyed by thousands” on its website. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Tex., who coaches the Republicans’ team, reassured fans Thursday that the game was still on, regardless of partisan gridlock.
But that didn’t stop some Democrats from using the game to make a political point. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., suggested Republicans should walk on the field with one less player given their refusal to hold hearings for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.
"If the Republicans believe the Supreme Court can consider some of the most important issues of our time without a full roster of justices, then they should have no problem competing without a full Republican squad of players on the field," Reid said in a statement, according to Roll Call.
Barton fired back that the Republicans had been hampered already playing against Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., a past Morehouse College outfielder considered by teammates and opponents alike as one of the best players in the congressional game’s history.