[BY S. SALMI]
Around election day now-retired KGY news director Bob Macleod used to air an editorial thanking the candidates for their participation. That was a nice gesture. However, it also makes sense to acknowledge everyone else who assisted with a campaign. These folks are on the front lines of keeping the flame of democracy alive.
County-level offices are full-fledged day jobs, so people who run for those are making explicit career moves. The same can’t be said of elected positions for the likes of city council, port commission or school board. Even when stipends are involved, those positions have to be viewed as labors of love. If elected, one is expected to take on a whole lot of work squeezed in between one’s day job, family responsibilities and such.
Maybe one will be thanked for all of one’s effort with reelection. And maybe not.
From the outside, being a candidate can look glamorous. Indeed, a wag once described politics as show business for ugly people. But the act of running for office strikes me as being more akin to an athlete training for the Olympics. At least that’s the way it can seem if you are serious candidate running in a hotly contested race.
I suspect that all serious candidates have an existential moment when they ask themselves if it’s worth it. That moment could be triggered by any number of things, such as an unflattering Olympian story. Or a nasty phone call at 9:30 at night. Or your kid wanting to play ball but your campaign manager insists that you need to stick to your doorbelling schedule.
Campaigns are complicated organisms. A whole bunch of decisions can make the critical difference between winning and losing. However, a goodly number of races are ultimately decided by which campaign has more staying power.
Although most voters don’t start paying attention until shortly before an election, serious candidates may start building their campaigns as long as a year beforehand. The ramp up to election day can become a grueling marathon of door belling, fundraising, policy development and glad handing.
So by the time most voters are paying attention, the serious candidates are likely starting to feel fatigued. That’s why a little empathy may be in order for the inevitable flubs. A candidate who doesn’t quite seem “on” during a public forum may be operating on four hours sleep and just had an argument with their spouse about how the campaign is destroying their marriage.
Indeed, I suspect that all serious candidates have an existential moment when they ask themselves if it’s worth it. That moment could be triggered by any number of things, such as an unflattering Olympian story. Or a nasty phone call at 9:30 at night. Or your kid wanting to play ball but your campaign manager insists that you need to stick to your door belling schedule.
So sometimes a candidate will “check out.” It may never be verbalized. It may be too subtle for people outside a campaign to even see. And it is an entirely understandable response. Even in the best circumstances, running for office can be an intense and even corrosive experience.
The candidate isn’t the only one who may experiences this. Every campaign has a cadre of people who may often put in as many hours as the candidate. Staff also have to juggle campaign responsibilities with the rest of their lives. They have their own existential moments.
Hotly competitive races can become a war of attrition. My experience has been that the campaign which paces itself better will tend to win. This is a marathon where you should avoid peaking too soon. Here I’m not just talking about the candidate’s visibility, but the energy level of everyone involved in the campaign.
Election day used to function as a pivotal ritual in this process. It was the equivalent of the championship football game. Now with vote-by-mail there is no climatic public event. No opportunity to rub shoulders with your neighbors. At least there’s still the election-night parties.
Campaigns are remarkably tribal experiences. That can lead to a certain us-versus-them attitude toward the opposing campaign. Yet the other side is experiencing pretty much everything they are. And when the race is over, everyone needs to sweep up and reconnect with a life that, in many ways, may have been put on hold.
So another election is over. I hope that those of you who worked so hard for a campaign feel like it was worth your effort regardless of whether your “side” won. As Olympia City Council candidate Democritus Blantyre reminded us back in 2011, we could be governing ourselves in more democratic ways. But, warts and all, this is our current system. You’ve helped make it work. Thank you.
ALL OUR SOURCES:
- Pickett, Paul; 2011. “Olympia City Council Elections 2011: New versus Newer.” Olympia Power & Light. Posted Oct. 5; accessed Nov. 23, 3016.
This essay was originally posted on Nov. 9, 2011 in Olympia Views under the pen name D. Lemming. The text has been lightly edited and updated.