WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic Party challenger Joe Biden clearly had much on their minds just hours before polls opened in Tuesday’s presidential election. Yet both found time to tweet their condolences to the Austrian people for a terror attack that took place more than 7,000 kilometers away in Vienna.
After tonight's horrific terrorist attack in Vienna, Austria, Jill and I are keeping the victims and their families in our prayers. We must all stand united against hate and violence.— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) November 3, 2020
Our prayers are with the people of Vienna after yet another vile act of terrorism in Europe. These evil attacks against innocent people must stop. The U.S. stands with Austria, France, and all of Europe in the fight against terrorists, including radical Islamic terrorists.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 3, 2020
The messages were noticed and very much appreciated in Austria, Martin Weiss, Vienna’s ambassador in the United States, told VOA in a phone interview.
“Because for both of them, this was the last day of their campaigning, in a really important campaign for both of them, and both of them took time to send those messages,” he said.
“It’s not a matter of course that they would do that. That was really something actually quite touching.”
Weiss, who took up his duties as head of mission at the Austrian embassy in Washington a year ago, found himself juggling multiple chores on November 3, monitoring developments in Vienna, writing thank-you notes to those who had expressed support for Austria, and keeping a close eye on the voting in various states.
Austria is in mourning over the innocent lives lost in yesterday's terror attack. Wreaths have been laid and the flags in front of our Embassy are flying at halfmast. We are shaken yet undeterred. Our model of life is what stand for. We will not budge. Not even an inch. pic.twitter.com/RMOFbqUe50— Martin Weiss (@martinoweiss) November 3, 2020
“After all, this is Election Day, this is the day the whole country had been waiting for, for a long time.”
The ambassador and his team weren’t the only Austrians taking an interest in which way the Americans were voting. “We have 15 to 20 journalists from Austria here to cover the election,” Weiss said. Some, he said, arrived earlier, while others came just for election week.
“They have fanned out to various battleground states, so the Austrian public gets a lot of reporting from Florida, Arizona, Pennsylvania, and so on. There’s great interest at home.”
The Vienna attack, in which an extremist associated with the Islamic State group killed four people and wounded almost two dozen, has understandably taken some attention from the U.S. election in Austria’s media.
“I heard some journalists say that ‘well, you know, we would have had eight pages in the paper about the U.S. election, now they cut it down to four.’ So that happened to all of them,” Weiss said. “They all got less time and less space in their media because of this terror attack, which is something that touched Austria deeply.”
Nevertheless, the ambassador said he is receiving a steady stream of requests for updates on the U.S. balloting.
“Just this morning I got a number of calls from media organizations who just tried to understand exactly what’s with 270, what happens in the Senate, when we would get the results in Nevada,” he said with a laugh.
“It’s important who sits in the White House, that’s for sure.”
For the record, 270 is the number of Electoral College votes, out of a total of 538, that a candidate needs in order to be declared a winner in the U.S. presidential election.
Weiss described a diplomat’s role as that of “a neutral observer” who “steers clear of [partisan] politics.” But he expressed understanding for the intense emotions many Americans are going through as the vote count plays out.
“We have been in a campaign season, we know how campaigns look, and that’s actually true for the whole world,” he said. “People are very dedicated to their candidates, it’s a time of great emotion, I think that’s only normal.”
In the end, he predicted, the election cycle will run its course.
“The voting has its place, the arguments about the outcomes have their place, and that maybe legal challenges have their place, that’s all part of the system. I think one should take the time, take a deep breath, let this all play out.”
And if legal challenges prolong the suspense for weeks or even longer?
“It actually strengthens the trust in the system, that there’s room maybe for legal challenge, maybe the legal challenge even goes to the highest court of the country – but that’s all part of this process,” he said.
“Come January 20, there will be a president who will be sworn in, as it always happens on January 20. There’s no doubt about that in my mind.”