Newton was major league Deval country, to the tune of about 85%. The teller, assistant teller, and credentials officer were all Deval people. So you could say I was in enemy territory. But I don’t like to use that phrase, since everyone was very nice to me, especially the officials. What lovely and dedicated people. They worked their tails off and were unfailingly warm and polite. Even the handful of people who lectured me on why they don’t like the way Chris got into the race were nice. Not like some of the Deval supporters around here!
It quickly became apparent that I would make very little headway in winning votes for Chris. My pitch was, “can I respectfully ask that you consider helping Chris get on the ballot today? We think he deserves a chance to compete.” Usually I got an immediate and vociferous “No!”, to which I would reply genially, “you mean I can’t respectfully ask?” To which they’d say, “well, of course you can, but I won’t consider voting for Chris.” My next line was, “We think Deval is great and he deserves the endorsement after all your hard work. But since that’s a foregone conclusion, would you consider giving Chris one vote, to make sure no one is kept off the ballot?” No luck with that one, either. I did have a couple of people who said they very much wanted to vote for Chris but just couldn’t bring themselves to break their word. These weren’t the kind of conversations where I had the time or the wherewithal to articulate my sincerely held disagreements with the notion of irrevocably pledging one’s voice in a fluid democratic process five months ahead of time. I realized that my main responsibility was to play defense and record the vote accurately.
One retired gentleman had me nervous all day. We had him ID’d for Chris, and by the time I met him he already had on one of our t-shirts. But he told me he was getting a lot of heat from the rest of the delegation and might not be able to hold out. I stuck close to him to try to help counter some of the Deval arguments he was getting. He started referring to me as his “watcher,” and asked that I refer to him not by his first name but as “Mr.” At one point he said his wife had called and told him he had to vote for “Doo-val” or else they would lose all their friends. So when Chris came by, I brought him over to get a pep talk from the candidate himself. (That was when I met Chris for the first time, too.) It turned out he was probably just having fun with me all day! He voted for Chris, but told me afterwards he would have his wife start the car in the morning for the next week, just to be safe.
High-pressure tactics by Deval-ites was a common theme. One delegate we had tagged as a possible Gabrieli vote asked me not to talk to him because he didn’t want the people around him to know he was voting for Chris. But in general I started to feel a lot of respect for the delegates in heavy Deval delegations who were holding the line for Chris. They started to appear to me, fairly or not, as free thinkers among seas of lemmings.
A youth delegate agreed to consider voting for Chris. I told him I’d introduce him to Chris when he came by. But when Chris arrived, I was busy with the older fellow and didn’t see the kid. So just before the voting, when I asked him if he’d come to a decision, he declared for Deval and said petulantly, “I thought you said Chris was coming by,” as if I had blown my chance by not coming through with the candidate. He was probably just messing with me, but still, whadda jerk! He also was one of those annoying people who said “I really hope Chris gets 15%, but I can’t vote for him.” Oh thanks!
I liked all three speeches from the governor candidates very much. Deval’s link between addiction, escapism, and cynicism moved me and I’m still thinking about it. During all of them I also had the same thought I always have during campaign speeches, which is: what does it feel like to set aside the ordinary rules of modesty and to speak so highly of yourself, so publicly? Does it feel like a bit of a loss, a spiritual compromise? Unless you’re a narcissist, it has to, at least at first.
When the voting started, the very first delegate to vote was someone I knew for sure had not signed in and had been marked absent. So, acting on what I understood to be my duty, I called a halt to the proceedings and protested, killing the festive mood. Next thing I know someone is barking in my ear, “Young man, whose campaign do you think you’re helping by doing this??” I turn around and it’s BARNEY FRANK!! He’s right up in my face and not pleased. I point to my Gabrieli sticker and he says, “Well, how do you think it helps Chris’s chances to get 15% if you piss off an entire delegation??” It turns out, the delegate I was challenging is a state committeeman who had been working all day and had arrived for the voting with Barney. I still don’t understand why the guy didn’t just pop by in the morning and sign in – Barney did, and so did Steve Grossman. When I handed the the challenge sheet to Chris’s lawyer after the vote, she laughed and said we can’t challenge HIM.
There were a couple of other little pieces of low-level shenanigans — not exactly dirty tricks, but just the sloppiness that comes with over-confidence. One delegate was a very busy Deval volunteer and didn’t want to bother voting. So, despite having signed in earlier, he didn’t show up, and had an alternate (also for Deval) just step up and insert himself at the time of the vote! When I complained, they scrambled to get the delegate, and let him vote after everyone else was done.
When the voting was over, I checked with Patrick and Reilly’s whips, and we all had the same numbers. I got the binder to the trailer and breathed a big sigh of relief — it had been seven hours, no breakfast or lunch or even bathroom break.
Then the waiting began. I can tell you the mood among the volunteers waiting outside the Gabrieli trailer was tense. We knew it was close. We pumped each other for information from each other’s districts and swapped war stories. Some districts sounded rough, others sounded promising. I scrutinized the faces of the staffers running in and out of the trailer for signs of confidence or dejection — saw only intensity. Brian McQuarrie, Jon Keller and John Henning drifted around, left and came back. The wait seemed ENDLESS. We were sore-footed, hoarse-throated, and light-headed. One person I talked to wondered why, if it was so close, we didn’t just claim victory and force the party’s hand. Word from the trailer later was that it looked good all along, but Chris wanted to be absolutely certain before announcing.
Not long after five o’clock I broke down and got in line for a hot dog — I had to eat something. Wouldn’t you know, just as I’m about to get to the front of the line, the media start to rush toward the trailer. I grabbed a weiner, tossed a $5 bill to the girl behind the register, and hot-footed it over to the trailer area while cramming down the dog. As I wormed out of the media crowd I ran straight into the oncoming mini-rally and got a high-five from Chris which, my mother-in-law tells me, was shown on the evening news, complete with my jaws still working the hot dog.
Chris announced his success to the media and we all cheered and hugged. Milling around the trailer again, a staffer yelled at us to clear the way and show some respect to the winner — Deval and a troop of supporters were marching by us from their trailer to the assembled media and on to the convention floor to announce and celebrate their victory. We stood by as he and his people passed and some of us clapped respectfully.
I wandered back to the floor and thanked the delegates who voted for Chris, and the teller, and chatted again with some Devalies, some of whom were suspicious of the delay and raising conspiracy theories. Soon Phil Johnston announced the results from the podium, and I was shocked to hear so many Patrick supporters boo when the word “fifteen” came out of his mouth.
From my very
biased point of view, then, Chris was the big winner! What an unbelievable feeling of achievement to work so hard and with such uncertainty and to come through with such a tangible result. Don’t laugh — I know my contribution was very small. But for my first volunteer experience beyond holding a sign, it was exhilarating. And think of the stakes: failing meant the campaign was over, done, kaput. With that possibility looming, I can’t describe to you what a complete victory that 15.36% felt like. And now there are months for the campaign to make its case to the primary voters in what essentially begins as a three-way dead heat. As Chris signed off on the phone, “onward and upward!”