Mark Campbell was tall and tanned, with an impressive shock of nut-brown hair, graying at the temples. He was the incumbent in the Thirteenth District, and had been for two terms. He’d won his last election by fifteen points, and my internal polling showed that his favorable numbers hadn’t budged. He crossed the room and squeezed my hand in an aggressive grip.
"So you’re the wonder boy," he said.
"I wouldn’t say that, Congressman," I replied.
"Well, it’s true," he said. "I wonder where you came from, and I wonder why you’re running, and I wonder what you stand for."
"You won’t have to wonder much longer," I said.
We had both been invited to a League of Women Voters brunch in Hanover. I wouldn’t have gone, but the organizer had promised that they’d save me a vegetarian omelet for me. And Emma made me go. My plan was to smile as nicely as possible and say nothing interesting, which is what my campaign manager called "behaving yourself."
Campbell spoke first, and gave what I guess was a nice speech that focused on capital gains taxes and the need to destroy something called "Isis," which I gather was a cheesy 1970’s Saturday morning television show about a female superhero. Why this needs to be destroyed, I could not tell you, although if destroying cheesy 1970’s Saturday morning television shows was up to me, I would start with "Schoolhouse Rock," which makes gendered assumptions about railroad workers.
Then I gave my speech, which Polly had written for me, and which I was slowly becoming more comfortable with. (She called it my "stump speech," again for reasons I don’t understand. I tried to explain to her that I was anti-logging, but she just laughed at me. Sometimes nothing gets through to her.) It was heavy on local concerns–pro clean water, anti fracking pipeline, pro farming subsidies. It was a solid speech, and it made me sound like a moderate Democrat instead of a constitutional Trotskyite, which was basically the entire campaign in a nutshell.
So after that was a nice speech from the Hanover County League of Women Voters representative, and I sat there and sipped my coffee and listen to her burble on about bipartisanship and voter registration and the recent cold snap we were having, and even though this wasn’t a formal debate, maybe the candidates could answer some questions from the audience?
I perhaps wasn’t listening to that last bit as closely as perhaps I needed to.
"Of course we will," Campbell said, jumping to his feet, and of course I had to follow him. The first question, thank goodness, was about voter suppression, which Campbell deflected. I gave a strong defense of letting everyone vote, and got a little round of applause. The second question was about the deficit, which I credited Obama for closing, and which Campbell blamed Obama for creating. And then the last question was, "Is there anything you two agree on?"
Campbell said, "Well, that’s hard for me to say, because Mr. Fairchild hasn’t been in politics too long, and doesn’t have very much of a track record. I will say that I think that we both think that Canada is a great country, and a good neighbor, although I wouldn’t want to emulate them quite as much as he would."
I tried very hard not to be irritated, but I didn’t succeed. If Campbell was going to use a bipartisan event to smear me as a Canadian, I was going to retaliate, and I saw a way to do it. "I do know Congressman Campbell’s track record," I said, "and there isn’t very much there that I agree with. One area that I think we agree on, or at least I hope that I do, is that we are both very much aware of transgender issues. I count myself as a transgender ally, and I give my full support to anyone who’s brave enough to let others know that they are making a transition in their gender identity."
I looked over at Campbell, expecting him to be horrified. I had been told by the Clinton campaign that Campbell was a transsexual, and that he (or zhe, or whatever pronoun he was going to want to prefer) had been angling to star in a reality series about his transition. That was one of the main reasons that I’d agreed to move to rural New Jersey and run in this race. But it was already April, and Campbell hadn’t said anything, and there hadn’t been so much as a rumor about the TV series. I figured that letting him know that I knew about his secret would rattle him a little bit.
Campbell took up his microphone. "I appreciate Mr. Fairchild’s kind words on this issue," he said. "And he is absolutely correct. I, too, am a transgender ally. As you may know, my chief of staff back in Washington, Gregory Carlson, is in the process of transitioning into a female sex assignment. He has his surgery coming up next week. I haven’t talked openly about it, because it’s his business, and because he was working on trying to set up a reality TV series about being transgender and working in Congress. Unfortunately, that’s fallen through–not his fault, you understand, it just didn’t get greenlighted by the network. But I’m going to be proud to welcome Gloria Carlson back to my office when she’s ready to start working again, and I hope that she sets an example for other transgender persons to follow."
And that little speech got a huge round of applause, and Campbell left the stage. One of his aides came over to me and said, "Take that, Dudley Do-Right," which I had to look up later and turned out to be yet another 1970’s television reference. The crowd filed out, and I was left in the banquet hall alone. I had to call Polly and tell her I’d been an idiot again.
*
"Okay, so the reality show was about his aide?" Emma asked. "How did the Clinton campaign get it all wrong?"
"No telling," I said. "Maybe the NSA intercepts missed something."
"Well, this really doesn’t change anything," Emma said. "This may still hurt Campbell in the polls, if he doesn’t watch out. Maybe the Religious Right will go after him for having a transsexual chief of staff."
"They won’t go after a Republican," I said. "And he’s an incumbent in a blue state. There isn’t a chance he gets primaried."
"Okay, well, so what?" Emma said. "You still need to go and run your own race."
"The whole idea of moving here and running was based on the idea that Campbell would be weakened by a scandal, and now he’s turned that into a strength. I don’t think this is positive."
"It is positive," Emma said. "It shows how things have changed. Now all you need to do is make them change some more."
"But what happens if I don’t win?" I asked. "I can’t change things if I’m out of power."
"You are going to win," Emma said. "Just because you’ve had one little setback doesn’t mean that you can’t go the distance. Anyway, there is one thing you can do to reclaim the issue."
"What might that be?" I asked.
"You could say you were transsexual," she said. "Make the commitment. Go and have the surgery. Become Justine Trudeau-Fairchild."
"Ha," I said.
"No, really. It would be a great vote-getter. Think of all the attention that Caitlyn Jenner got. You’d be a great woman, if you just put your mind to it."
"No."
"Okay, fine. But if you lose this election because you weren’t a woman, it won’t be my fault."
****
Here’s next week: The Ten Forty
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

Week Seven:The Coin Flip

Week Eight:The Wicked Witch
Week Eleven:The State Dinner
Week Twelve:The Maple Leaf Rag
Week Thirteen: The Large Endowment