At the end, campaigns have nothing to do but step off the cliff
Washington, D.C. — By Andy Barr
A fellow TeamFranken alum tells the following story when her younger colleagues ask for her advice on surviving a campaign:
A few days before the election, she began her day with a quart of coffee. (We'd persuaded The Egg and I across the street from our headquarters to start serving us coffee in the giant 32 oz. white buckets we called "silos.")
Then she downed a 5-Hour Energy shot (this was known as "riding the tiger"). Then another "silo." Then a Diet Coke. Then another 5-Hour Energy shot.
Then she walked outside to smoke her third cigarette of the morning (this was at 8 a.m., mind you), took a drag, and threw up on the sidewalk.
"You can either not eat or not sleep," she advises her proteges. "But you can't do both."
There is no job quite like working on a campaign. You speak a language consisting entirely of inside jokes and incomprehensible jargon. If you used to smoke, you start again -- and if you don't smoke, you might give it a try -- just to have a reason to walk outside every half hour. You are never off the clock, because there's always another voter you can talk to, another mailing you can put together, another dollar you can raise, another editor you can scream at.
All that obsessive behavior and mild self-abuse is how you try to drown or exorcise the pit in your stomach, the one you wake up with every morning for two years. What if you spent two years of your life doing this -- and your guy loses? What if your guy loses because you screwed up? Why are you even taking the time to think about this when there's more work to be done, anyway?
But in the end, the outcome isn't up to you. Our fearless leader, Stephanie Schriock, would tell us, "On Election Day, you jump off a cliff and hope the voters catch you." Even after all the time and all the money and all the noise, a couple of million people you've never met still get to decide.
So you spend the last couple of days -- when the whole thing is in the hands of ruthlessly energetic and perpetually under-thanked volunteers -- realizing that the only thing more anxiety-provoking than having too much to do is having nothing left for you to do at all.
These days, I'm a consultant. I'm writing this from my quiet office in Washington. But I've got sympathy pains. I know what my good friends and worthy opponents out there are going through. Everyone needs a nap. Everyone needs a hug.
But soon it'll be over. There will be tears, regardless of the outcome. There will be goodbye dinners followed by heavy drinking -- in celebration or consolation; it all sort of looks the same. There will be solemn promises to significant others ("never again!") -- most of which will be quickly broken when the next cycle rolls around. There will be pride in hard work done. And, most of all, there will be closure, a chance to step out of the storm and regain control over your life.
Unless, of course, there's a recount. In which case, you're utterly screwed.
Andy Barr is a speechwriter and a partner at Well and Lighthouse, a new media and political strategy firm in Washington, D.C. He was the communications director for the Franken campaign in 2008. He is a source in MPR's Public Insight Network.