Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Leaves turning color. Political signs in abundance. Anxiety in the pit of your stomach. These are all symptoms of the weeks leading up to an election.
Campaign managers are experiencing queasiness right now. Candidates are valiantly trying to keep their smile pasted when the stressful possibility of dashed expectations for yourself and your supporters can be paralyzing.
All of us are anxious for the morning after Election Day -- candidates, campaign staffs, public and media alike. But there are important last weeks to live through. And by the looks of Maine's gubernatorial race, this is when this contest will be decided.
For me, memories of 1994 are fresher than they've been for a long time. I was managing Angus King's campaign, never having managed a political candidate's campaign ever before.
While I never recall doubting that King would win, the stress of those last weeks have created memories that will last a lifetime. There is a signed picture in my office of King playing bells with Dennis Bailey's band during the inaugural celebration, and it says, "Never forget the fun parts." Those last weeks weren't one of those fun parts, and I haven't forgotten them.
The campaign had two internal polling sources.
Neither projected King to win.
Our professional pollster had King behind Joseph Brennan by 9 points in those frantic last weeks. The polling conducted by our volunteers, directed by Chris Potholm, focused on "key precincts" and forecasted that King could win but was more important at showing trends than outcomes. We knew King was gaining traction, but didn't know whether it would be enough.
Other campaigns were also doing polling, and we regularly received updates from one of them. On Oct. 16, that poll showed King in the lead for the first time by two percentage points. When Bailey revealed the results to the candidate, he started with just the numbers in one column, then started writing the initials of the candidates next to them. When the second number from the top got a B for Brennan and the top number got a K for King, we were all ecstatic. Had we known what was to follow, we'd have wished for a larger percentage lead. When the other candidates sensed Angus' movement in the polls, the attacks started. The remaining debates were dreadful affairs, with all the other candidates (Susan Collins, Brennan and Jonathan Carter) attacking Angus.
A statewide newspaper ran a poll that showed Collins ahead of King on the front page above the fold. The "poll" was not a scientific poll, but the newspaper wouldn't retract the story. Bailey accused the newspaper of sophistication akin to the Weekly Reader. During the last televised debate, King allowed himself to be painted into a corner on health care by Brennan. Then he fell off the stage (after most people had left).
Finally, all there is left is Election Day.
The polling numbers collected over the year by our volunteers had been fed into a database created by Peter Burr, a savant with numbers. Burr took up residence in our campaign office (a former Arby's in Brunswick at Cook's Corner) and added results from exit polling we collected throughout the morning. By 11 a.m., he declared the race for King.
From that time until the polls closed, we saw Burr's projected lead drop and drop with new exit polling data. I remember him telling me emphatically that "I can't make Angus lose" no matter how he manipulated the data. My stomach wasn't convinced. Bailey was in a fetal position on the futon in my office.
It became time to face all the supporters who had been invited to join us at The Atrium in Brunswick, not knowing the outcome of the race. Initial numbers shared by the networks had Brennan ahead of King, but it was very close. Burr never changed his mind about the eventual outcome. At the end of a very long night, all the networks had projected King the winner.
CNN showed a picture of Carter, calling him Angus King, the projected winner in Maine. It didn't matter a whit to me.
It takes courage to put your name on a statewide ballot. All the candidates deserve our respect and applause for undertaking what is, in its basest terms, a public service. The least we can do is vote.
Kay Rand is former chief of staff for Maine independent Gov. Angus King.