It had been a bracing week on the campaign trail. I got up every day at five o’clock and walked precincts throughout the district. At that early hour, I spent a lot of time waiting with parents at bus stops. You would figure this would be a great time to talk to parents about progressive educational issues, like de-gendering the curriculum, raising teacher salaries, or purchasing hybrid-electric school buses. But you would be wrong. A few of them were downright rude about the whole thing, and I kept having kids walk up to me and tell me that I was creepy and that my tie made me look like a dork, which is just not true. So I switched to greeting people as they were getting to work, which had better results until I tried it at this publishing business, which turned out to be a Christian publishing business, and I experienced severe microaggressions regarding my commitment to women’s health.
The good news was that I was getting lots of good exercise walking the precincts, and staying away from the headquarters meant that I was staying away from the WaWa across the street, which meant that my weight was starting to come down a bit. I know that I’ve been talking a good bit about my weight in these columns, and I wouldn’t want anyone to think I was vain, because I’m not. But appearances matter in politics, whether they should or not. As my mother would point out, Lenin always kept his beard nice and trim. So there’s that.
I say all this to point out that I was kind of shocked when I went into campaign headquarters and Polly handed me a package of Butterscotch Krimpets. “Eat,” she said.
“Don’t you have anything healthy?” I asked. “Maybe some celery sticks or something?”
“I want your blood sugar up before we go over the internal polls,” she said.
“Why does it matter what my blood sugar is like?” I asked.
“Because I don’t want you sobbing all over my desk when you read them.”
“Oh, they can’t be that bad, can they?”
*
They were, in fact, that bad. I was down 57 – 40, with a margin of error of four points. I was trailing among older voters, younger voters, male voters, female voters, rich voters, and poor voters. I ran down the crosstabs, looking for a sector where I was winning.
“I’m doing well with black voters,” I said.
“The district’s 95 percent white,” Polly explained.
“I’m not seeing any polling here on LGBTQ voters,” I said. “You’d think my bold stance on transgender issues would at least attract some support.”
“There aren’t enough registered transgender voters in the district to make up a seventeen-point deficit,” Polly said. “Look, I’ve been going over these, trying to find some kind of edge, something we can use. But you’re underwater everywhere. I don’t see any path forward for you, Justin.”
“Maybe we can get Hillary to come in and do a rally,” I said.
“You’re polling ahead of Hillary,” she said. “Just a touch, but you are. She’s not going to pull any undecideds towards you.”
“Maybe we bring in a celebrity,” I said. “Or have someone do a video, like Robert Downey, Jr.”
“You’re down seventeen points,” Polly said. “You could have a whole entire Live Aid concert here and it wouldn’t push you over the top.”
“Wait, can we actually do a Live Aid concert here?” I asked. “Because…”
“No place in the district with the infrastructure to manage it,” she said. “Sorry.”
“I don’t know what to say. I thought we were doing so well. We were all working so hard.”
“You want another Krimpet?” she asked. “That’s about all I have for you.”
“I guess,” I said.
*
“There’s one thing we can do,” Leland Campbell said.
Campbell had stopped by our office at the end of the day–he was our landlord, after all–and since he was the head of the Hanover County Democratic Party, Polly showed him our internals. He was as unhappy as we were, although a good bit less surprised. He offered to buy Polly and me drinks at the Hanover Inn, and I knew they had a nice, locally-sourced IPA that was decent, so I went along.
“What’s that?” Polly said. She was on her second Cosmopolitan by then.
“The Torricelli Option,” Campbell explained.
“Oh, no,” Polly said. “It’s too late for that.”
“Never too late,” he said. “It may be the one thing that wins us this race.”
“You going to explain what you’re talking about to Justin?” Polly said. “Because he’s an idiot, you know.”
“I know,” Campbell said.
“I am not an idiot,” I said. “I know what the Torricelli Option is. You want to replace me at the last minute with someone else, the way they replaced Senator Torricelli with Lautenberg in 2002.”
“It’s perfectly legal,” Campbell said. “The state Supreme Court says so. We can find someone to take your place, and maybe that’s enough to turn things around.”
“Even if you did this stupid thing,” Polly said, “they’d never win. Justin, despite his persistent idiocy, has access to Fairchild money. That’s at least kept him competitive. You bring in someone else, they’re starting a campaign from scratch with no money.”
“Lautenberg did it,” Campbell said.
“He had an organization in place, and he had been a Senator before. He had name recognition. And he was running statewide, which tilts Democratic. Who are you going to find that can marshal that kind of support overnight?”
“Maybe I’m looking at her,” Campbell said.
“What?” I said.
“What?” Polly said.
“Not what,” Campbell explained. “Who. You.”
“Who, me?” Polly asked.
“Think about it. You’ve lived in this district as long as Justin has. You’re good-looking and personable. You’ve built up the campaign apparatus. You have a better understanding of policy and what it takes to get elected in a rural district. And Justin’s money is tied up in a super-PAC; there’s no reason that they wouldn’t support you over him. And you couldn’t be a worse campaigner than Justin; it’s not possible.”
There was a long, awkward silence.
“I couldn’t do that to Justin,” Polly said.
“Sure you could.”
“He’s my friend.”
“That’s right, we’re friends,” I said. “It would be a betrayal.”
“Of course it would be,” Campbell said. “You can’t very well betray your enemies, can you?”
“I would love to be in Congress,” Polly said. “One day. But not like this.”
“Justin’s not going to Congress,” Campbell said. “Let’s be real about this. You looked at the same crosstabs I did. If you can poll just fifteen percent better among women voters, you can get this within the margin of error.”
Polly drained the last drops from her Cosmopolitan. “That’s a good point,” she said.
I looked at her, half-drunk on a barstool in a rinky-dink backwater New Jersey bar, and I knew that she was at least thinking about it. And part of me wanted to let her. Part of me wanted to walk away and slink back to my parents in Connecticut and give up politics forever. Part of me understood that Polly actually deserved to be in Congress more than I did–she is smarter than I am, understands politics more than I do, and is more in tune with the people of this district than I will ever be. And I won’t pretend that I didn’t know that I was only running for Congress because of my white privilege and the support of the patriarchy, and I of course feel guilty about that, because who wouldn’t?
But this was my campaign. I was going to go the distance, and I was not about to let my own campaign manager stab me in the back.
“You’re not doing it,” I said. “We’re going to finish this campaign. And if we can’t win, we’ll at least go down fighting.”
“This is not about me or you, Justin,” Polly said. “You have to understand. This is about winning the House for Democrats. If we have an opportunity here to win, we ought to at least think about it.”
“We have an opportunity to do more than win,” I said. “We have an opportunity to make this race about something important for a change. To talk about stuff that isn’t just fracking pipelines and gasoline taxes and healthcare. To talk about the stuff that really matters to people.”
“And what is that?” Campbell asked.
“We go all out for the progressive agenda. Not the halfway marginal measures, either. We go full-bore
Trotskyite. We make this election about the one percent.”
“I didn’t know you could get that drunk off a half-bottle of that stuff,” Campbell said. “Are you nuts?”
“We go for it,” I said. “We campaign for everything. Free government-run healthcare for everyone. 90% tax rates. Repeal of the Second Amendment. Mandatory transgender bathrooms for everyone. We stop pretending we’re for half-measures and really make this a campaign based on what we really believe.”
“You’re out of your mind, Justin,” Polly said. “You do that, and being down seventeen points will be a pleasant memory, if that.”
“Maybe we don’t win,” I said. “But if we give the voters a real choice, maybe we move the needle. Maybe we radicalize people who weren’t radical before. Maybe we move the needle towards the progressive future.”
“I don’t know, Justin,” Polly said. “That’s the opposite of what we’ve been trying to do in this campaign.”
“Maybe that’s the problem,” I said. “I mean, come on. We can’t do any worse than we’re doing, can we?”
“Yes,” Campbell said. “You can do much, much worse. You can lose by fifty points, which will mean that the Republican leadership will think this is a safe district, and give your opponent a committee chairmanship, which will let him lock this county down for a generation.”
“We’ll never lose that badly,” I said. “You’ll see. This is the kind of politics that people want to hear–the kind of politics that inspires people. It’s the kind of politics that I want to do. And I think that we can make it work, and if we can’t, at least we went the distance.”
Campbell finished his drink. “Well, they say everyone goes to Hell in his own way. Good night. And if you change your mind, and want to take me up on the Torricelli thing, let me know.”
Campbell walked out of the bar, and there was another of those uncomfortable silences. Polly motioned the bartender over for another Cosmo. I sat there quietly, watching her, seeing which way she was going to jump. She downed half of her drink and then stared back at me.
“This is easily the stupidest thing I’ve ever done,” she said. “I ought to be chasing after Campbell in the parking lot, begging him for the chance to stab you in the back and take this campaign over. Do you really think that anybody’s going to vote for you if you go all-out progressive?”
“We’ll never know until we try,” I said. “I don’t want to run as a fake progressive anymore.”
“Like Justin Trudeau.”
“Don’t go there.”
“Sorry.”
“It’s OK. Are you with me?”
She finished the rest of her drink. “Let’s do this thing. Where do we start?”
******
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
Week Fourteen:The Transit Authority
Week Fifteen:The Ten Forty
Week Sixteen:The Bachelor Party
Week Seventeen:The Refugee Crisis
Week Eighteen:The Taco Bowl
Week Nineteen:The Trending Topic
Week Twenty-One:The Blessed Event
Week Twenty-Two:The 3AM Feeding
Week Twenty-Three:The Stuffed Elephant
Week Twenty-Five:The Turkey Jive
Week Twenty-Six:The Wiki Leak
Week Twenty-Seven:The Baby Bjorn
Week Twenty-Eight:The Passport Agency
Week Twenty-Nine:The Media Buy
Week Thirty: The National Anthem
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