For anyone who has worked in campaigns, the week leading up to the election is like no other experience. It’s a blinding minute-by-minute chaos of decisions on the fly, anticipating every possibility that could stand in the way of making it to election day. (photo below is from the “week-of” bus tour during Nick Theodore’s 1994 gubernatorial campaign).
I spent my early career years involved in the front lines of campaigns. These weren’t just jobs. I believed in the candidates I worked for. I was fortunate to learn so much from so many who made a lasting mark on my life. The week leading up an election day always gins up lots of emotions, good memories and gratitude for these experiences in spite of all the raging personal attacks and downright meanness we continue to see in today’s political grind.
Friendships and relationships forged from campaign work are unique. These are people you see at their best and their worst, at their most confident and most doubting, with coffee-induced highs and sleep-deprived lows. Because of the intensity of the work, these are the people who can teach you so much, and they probably never even know it.
From a mayor’s race to a presidential election and lots in between, I’m grateful for all that I learned over the years from these candidates, their families and campaign staffers who trusted me to work for and with them.
A few of the items on my gratitude list include …
- Being part of both winning and losing election night speeches and the subsequent morning-after staff meetings where the candidates were equally gracious regardless of whether they won or lost.
- Learning it’s possible to master the balancing act between running for an office and actually governing.
- Gaining a healthy respect for honest and accurate reporters.
- Participating in the inner workings of campaigns that were based on well-researched policy rather than political opportunism and skewed polling.
- Discovering it’s possible to disagree vehemently over a political or policy decision and still maintain respect for the other person.
- Getting a chance to prove myself in several campaign jobs when, on paper, I probably didn’t have the experience.
- Taking part in the hard decisions made in the back rooms of a campaign office – decisions that were separated by the thin wire of doing what’s right versus doing what might bring down the other guy. In every case I witnessed, doing right won out over political opportunism.
- Embracing a love for the dance of politics and strange bedfellows and an appreciation for well-executed political strategy.
I’m grateful to have shared the high of a squeaker win. However, I’m also grateful for what I learned from the low of the surprise loss and the disappointment in knowing we gave our very best for this candidate we believed in and lost our jobs anyway.
One thing I’ve learned is that losses like those can illuminate new possibilities and present new opportunities. I hope that lesson will be the case with our city, state and country going forward after this election cycle. But by loss, I don’t mean which candidate wins or loses. I mean the damage and losses caused by the ugliness of this election season – the loss of civility, trust, respect and the diminished focus on the general good of the people. Neither side can claim innocence in this.
Recovery from this will happen one person at a time only if we practice acceptance, seek out strength in our common struggles and just be kind.
A quick trip down memory lane from the Nick Theodore gubernatorial campaign, Robin Tallon’s congressional races and Sen. Hollings’ Senate (and presidential) race.