It’s become cliché to talk about how candidates and campaign staff preparing for Election Day is are like athletes and coaches preparing for a big game.
But after having been involved in politics and political campaigns for decades, I can tell you: that’s not really true.
After all, unlike a football player who practices for a big game, campaign staff and candidates have to prepare for an event that is — at some point — completely out of their hands.
And never is that more obvious on Election Day itself, when all a campaign worker can do is hope for any morsel of information they can get as they wait for the polls to close. It’s often a day of organized chaos, a pressure cooker that’s usually the culmination of years of work.
Over the last 20 years, my Election Days have been days for celebration, and they’ve been days of complete misery. They’ve been days of ups and downs, when it often feels like time slows down, with every second feeling like a minute, every hour feeling like a day.
One of the internal debates in campaigns will be about what level of campaigning should be done on Election Day. When I ran campaigns, I always advocated for having multiple organized activities for campaign staff, candidates and volunteers.
But before I did anything, I always made sure I had voted, either by absentee ballot or in person. You would be surprised to learn how many campaign staffers get so caught up in making sure everyone else is voting that they forget to vote themselves.
Because I couldn’t sit still on Election Day early in my career, I would work with staff and volunteers to maximize every opportunity to encourage people to vote. Over the years, I’ve held lawn signs on busy intersections during morning and evening rush hour traffic to encourage voting, sometimes in subzero temperatures.
In local elections or legislative races, I also liked to keep staff busy by doing targeted door knocking in key precincts. By Election Day, your campaign should have a cultivated an extensive list of likely voters that you have contacted relentlessly. I always felt like we’d done enough when, during phone calls, the person on the other end of the line hung up before the campaign staffer even started in on their script.
Of course, just to be safe, I always had my people redial the same number and leave one last GOTV message. I figured if we won, they won’t be hearing from us again for at least a year. If we lost, they’d never be hearing from us again.
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Election Day is especially tough on candidates. When I served as Deputy Chair of the Republican Party, I remember calling candidates on Election Day to thank them for running for office. There were several I talked to over the years who had been in bed for days with headaches because of stress. There were other candidates who hadn’t slept in days, and still more who hadn’t eaten a healthy meal in weeks.
During those calls, I often had to the role of grief counselor or motivational speaker. Some candidates cried because they knew they would lose. And some were emotional because they knew victory was just hours away.
As I got older, though, I developed a few routines (and a few superstitions) for Election Day. I would vote at the polls, mostly because I wanted to talk with election judges to gauge voter turn-out and intensity. Then, after voting, I would then go back to my office and shut the door. I’d I would have a selection of political movies to watch while I tried to collect as much intel as I could about the day’s events.
Instead of being unable to sit still, I eventually learned to let go a little bit, to just wait for the verdict to be announced. By then, I figured, it was up to the voters, and I was just along for the ride.