WINTER 1997 Montanan - Volume 14, Number 2
On the Campaign Trail
by Jack Mudd
It's five a.m. and your day as a candidate has begun. You try to remember where you are. What town? Whose house? Seconds later you recall that you have to be at the plant gate in an hour to greet workers. You get dressed, sneak downstairs, leave the thank-you note and you're gone.
You shake hands with sleepy workers on their way to the shift, then it's off to breakfast with supporters. Introductions, a few gobbled bites of restaurant food, a short talk, then you're out the door. The high school government class starts at nine.
This part is fun. You talk about the office you seek, and the students ask good questions. You wonder how to keep them from becoming cynical. After the bell rings, you make an hour of fund-raising calls. You are excited because people are beginning to pay attention to the race, but you wish these could be real conversations about old times or issues. There is no time¬you get to the point and ask for contributions.
At the service club luncheon, you move through the room, shaking hands. After you pick at lunch, it's time for the Speech. You've delivered hundreds of variations of the Speech, and you're tired of it, but you have to let this crowd know who you are and what you believe in. After questions, you follow the crowd out the door.
At the newspaper office, a reporter asks you about campaigning as a newcomer. By now, you understand how few people will pick up and read tomorrow's paper. Most voters get their political information from thirty-second television sound bites that, by the campaign's final weeks, will crescendo into an electronic din. Thirty seconds, however, is ample time for the opposition to paint a false picture of you. You'll regularly be tempted to respond in kind.
Then you're off to the next town-a two-hour car trip. Your knowledge of distances is now fine-tuned. As Montana's beauty roars past, you phone the office and get the evening schedule changes. There's a chance for a television interview if you can make it by five-thirty. No problem. You even make a few fund-raising calls before pulling up at the studio door. After greetings and mike checks, you go on air and get a full two minutes and a couple of good questions.
You're almost on time for the fund-raising reception at six. You're always surprised to see how many people attend these events and help financially-old friends, classmates, business acquaintances, people who want to be close to the political process and people who want to help a candidate who shares their views. As you move through the packed rooms, you thank everyone and hope they understand your gratitude. By the time you comment on the race and meet late arrivals, it's past eight-thirty. You'd like to stay, but you've got to leave so the staff can clean up.
You spend the night with friends. They've given you a house key, one of several you own that open homes across the state. You're glad this is a familiar place-not like the house in the country last week where you had to be talked in by car phone. After a fast-food stop-you've spent a lot of time at drive-up windows lately-you turn into the driveway at ten. Your friends whisk off your luggage to their son's room. You've spent more time there recently than he has.
At eleven you head to your room for the final round of phone calls. First to the campaign office-routine calls that later blossom into full-blown conference calls with the campaign staff advising you on how to respond to the opposition's tactics. The last call is to your spouse-a dose of reality in an otherwise strange world with its kaleidoscope of faces and places. You wonder how a person could survive this whirlwind without family support, the center that holds.
It's after midnight. You're in bed, looking over tommorrow's schedule. As the papers slide from your hands, it hits you again. You've met so many good people. Even when they disagree with you, Montanans are a civil bunch. But you've also seen that civility attacked by carpet-bagging consultants who are paid big money to win-at any cost. For them "truth" is what you can get away with.
You will encounter the dark side of the process soon enough, but tonight you feel enveloped by the goodness of Montana. Trying to build a future here for these people is what drew you to the race and, just as sleep comes, you're more convinced than ever that it's worth the effort.
Former law school dean, Jack Mudd was defeated by Conrad Burns in a 1994 bid for the U.S. Senate.