Emma and I were sitting in Colleen Campbell’s office at the Hanover Inn, going over tablecloth colors. I was arguing that the tablecloths for the wedding should be cerulean. Colleen–who was the general manager for the Inn, and was therefore our de facto wedding planner–was trying to sell us on robins’ egg blue, because she had robins’ egg blue tablecloths on hand, and would have to special-order the cerulean ones from her wholesaler in Philadelphia. I was trying to make the point that the white lilies in the centerpieces would really pop against the cerulean tablecloths when Polly called me on my cellphone.
"There’s an error in the campaign account," she said.
"What are you talking about?" I said.
"There are three point seven million dollars in the campaign account."
"That sounds about right," I said.
"Are you sure someone didn’t miss a decimal point?" she asked. "That’s a ridiculous amount of cash-on-hand for a Congressional campaign."
"I hired you to start spending it," I said.
"Which reminds me; I need your signature on the lease for the campaign office. I’ll be right over with that, if you have a minute."
*
We were deep into a conversation about how the napkins would be folded when Polly showed up with the lease agreement. "This is a huge place," she said. "You could hold the victory party here."
"You totally could," Colleen said. "I could hold the date for you, if you wanted."
"Do you do a lot of political events?" Emma asked.
"Oh, yeah," Colleen said. "We do all the party events, of course. Jefferson-Jackson Day every year, for one thing. We did a really great watch party for the Iowa caucuses eight years ago, and it was so exciting. I wish we could do that again this year."
"Why couldn’t you do that this year?" Polly asked.
"The date is free," Colleen said. "But Dad says the county party doesn’t have the money this year. We’d need to find an outside sponsor."
"How much money are we talking about?" Polly said.
"I was just getting ready to ask that myself," Emma said.
"Fifteen thousand," Colleen said. "But that’s with a cash bar. Twenty thousand with an open bar."
"Eighteen thousand," I said, "and we get the cerulean tablecloths."
"Done."
*
I was back in Colleen’s office the night of the Iowa caucuses, trying to ignore my telephone. My mother was in Burlington, texting me all the details about the caucus she was organizing for Bernie Sanders. The race was too close to call so far. I was worried about how all my friends on the Clinton campaign were handling the drama.
"Are you about ready to go out there?" Emma asked.
"One second," I said. "Mother says there’s a huge crowd of people at her caucus."
"There’s a huge crowd of people here," Emma pointed out. "Come look."
I looked. There were, in fact, two large crowds of people out on the dance floor of the Hanover Inn. In the middle, there was a large crowd of older women, sipping on drinks that were tall and pink and were probably loaded with vodka that I was paying for. They were hunched together, as though for mutual protection. All around them, swilling beer and wearing bright blue Bernie Sanders T-shirts, was a mob of young men, barely out of college, if that.
"Bernie bros," I breathed.
"Did you tell Polly to do a straw vote?" Emma asked.
"To do what?" I asked.
"That’s how she promoted this. She said there would be a straw vote. That’s why all the Bernie bros are here, to vote in the straw vote. They’re going to tweet about it."
"How much trouble would we get in if we ran a straw vote, and Bernie Sanders won?"
"No telling," Emma said. "Best case scenario, nobody notices since it’s the same night as Iowa."
"Worst-case scenario?"
"The former Secretary finds out, blows her top, and endorses Mayor McKenzie."
"That would be bad," I said.
Polly spotted us, and came rushing over. "Isn’t it awesome? I can’t believe we got such a big crowd."
"Awesome," I said. "For sure."
"Come on," Polly said. "You’re in charge of the straw vote."
So I got up to the podium, and made a little self-promotional speech, and announced that we’d be doing the straw poll now. We’d set up the two large Hanover Inn punch bowls on the table, and people could put their ballots in the one marked for Sanders or the one marked for Clinton. (Some joker had put out a little finger bowl for Martin O’Malley, but obviously no one voted for him.) The entire process took about twenty minutes, with the Bernie bros whooping and shouting the entire time. Emma and I took the ballots back to the office and started counting them. We ended up with about seven hundred Sanders votes to about five hundred Clinton votes.
"I don’t see what else we can do," Emma said. "We have to tell them Sanders won."
"Why does it matter?" Polly asked. "This is all to help Justin; we don’t really care if Sanders wins this, right? He hasn’t endorsed anyone yet."
"We can’t embarrass the former Secretary like this," I said. "Not with the way the exit polls are going. And it’s just a little straw poll, it’s not like it’s a real thing."
"You’ll disappoint the Bernie bros," Polly said. "You need those guys for the campaign. They think they won. If they walk out of there upset with you for tinkering with the result, you won’t get them to volunteer for you."
"Let me handle it," I said.
*
I walked up to the podium. "Thank you again for coming," I said. "We’ve had a great turnout tonight, and we’re going to translate that into victory in November. I hope you’re all here for that party."
This led to the inevitable "Feel the Bern" chant from the Bernie bros. I waited a couple of minutes for that to settle down, and started to wave my arms to settle them down a little.
"We have a result in the straw poll," I said. "You’re not going to believe this, but it’s paralleled the actual caucus results. It’s a tie!"
The Bernie bros looked unhappy at this. The older contingent looked pleased, but that might have been all the vodka.
"The way it works in the Iowa caucuses," I explained, "is that they have a coin flip to settle ties. So we’ll do that here." I pulled a dollar Sacajawea coin out of my pocket–I always try to use those, because George Washington was a slaveholder. "Heads for Clinton, tails for Sanders. Okay?"
I flipped the coin in the air, and caught it on my wrist, and peaked. Tails.
"It’s heads!" I said. "Hillary wins!"
*
"That was a dirty trick you played on the Bernie bros," Polly said.
"It may have been," I said. "But it was necessary. I feel bad for them, but that’s politics."
"And we raised twenty-five thousand dollars for Justin," Emma pointed out. "We turned a profit."
"Oh," I said. I hadn’t thought about it quite that way. Making a profit wasn’t really the Trotskyite thing to do.
"We can’t just think about this in dollars and cents," Polly said. "We need votes, too. We need the Bernie bros just as much as we need anyone else. Maybe more."
"The important thing is that we win in November," I said, and Polly and Emma nodded in agreement. Nothing else mattered but going the distance, and I was not above rigging the odd straw poll to make sure that happened.
*****
Check out the previous installments:
Last year:
Week Forty-Nine:The True North
Week Fifty:The Garden State
This year:
Week Four:The Brain Trust
Week Six: The Snow Day