Sunday, November 02, 2008

On the Eve of the U.S. Presidential Election

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(The following article originally appeared in the October edition of UK-based Cicero Consulting's Monthly Policy Briefer and has been reprinted with permission.)

The road for many of us working on this US Presidential campaign can be measured in the span of years. We have literally seen marriage and separation, birth and death take place over the course of what has been the longest campaign in modern political history.

In equally dramatic fashion, on the eve of the presidential election, the weight of the world is felt across America. By the staffers working the campaigns, the public officials striving to keep the country solvent, the media recording this history, and of course the voters who will ultimately determine the outcome.

At the time of writing, it is late September in the battleground state of Nevada—though I submit the following thoughts through a lens of the night of 3 November, the evening before the official balloting begins.

These final, solemn 10 hours between the time of the last voter contact phone call on the final night of campaigning and the time of the first ballot cast on Election Day are a living purgatory. The advertisements are complete, the money has been spent, negative tactics are finished. The campaign staff—as well as the electorate—are thoroughly exhausted.

There is a lot left to do in the waning hours, but also the sense that the outcome, one way or another, has no doubt already been determined in the minds of the voters.


There may be time, perhaps during a moment alone in the campaign parking lot, when a staffer reflects on the journey leading up to this point. Spending Christmas in a cheap motel while campaigning in Iowa, crowd building for a rally outside of a debate in California, and ultimately through the only 50-state nomination process this country has ever seen. Acknowledging the small victories along the way, such as the unlikely Obama victory in the Texas caucus, or McCain’s first comeback win in New Hampshire.

History will be made tomorrow, if for no other reason than that we will see either Barack Obama as the first black man, or John McCain’s running mate Sarah Palin as the first woman, elected to the executive branch. Yet as significant as these milestones may be, they are one-day stories in the context of the litany of issues hovering over the election.

Because over the past year alone, the country has weathered a real estate collapse, witnessed the near-failure of the nation’s financial systems and experienced an energy crisis—all the while, continuing to stomach an increasingly unpopular war in Iraq. Over a period of eight years, we’ve seen terrorism rear its ugly head at home and abroad, and have watched the country divide itself along partisan and ideological lines solely for the purpose of political gain instead of for the purpose of better government.

All of these issues have taken a toll on the national psyche. There is an angst overcoming the nation, a yearn for change and a fear of it at the same time. No sense that the future will be better, only that it must be different.

For us Democrats, that angst rests in turning the tide of the Bush administration and the sea change of policies and events which have taken place over much of the past decade. For Republicans, it rests in a frustration with their own party, enduring scandals which have reshaped their brand as well as a sitting president who has become so irrelevant as to ineffectively confront crisis, and as such didn’t even attend his party’s own nominating convention.

In the business of politics, we usually use the phrase about an election being “the most important election of our lifetime”. We dilute the impact of the phrase because we repeat it every election year. However, there is a keen awareness that this particular election has more gravity than those past.

It is well known that this is no ordinary election; that the outcome will have implications far greater than any previous presidential election. The workings of the global economy, the state of international relations and the future of the world’s seat of power all rest on ballots cast across a continent. It seems as though the Earth itself is in the balance.

During the month of October, the race winnowed down to 12 states, until the field started to narrow again. In a nation of 300 million residents, the outcome of the election comes to rest with swing voters who cumulatively number to fewer than one million, spanning across a mere six states. On the eve of the election, the final battlegrounds have been staked out in Colorado, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio and Virginia.

And on this night, there is a momentarily silence across campaign offices and hotel rooms once it is realised that the campaign, for all intents and purposes, is effectively over. A regional manager sits back in a folded chair and pulls a vial of bourbon from his desk drawer. There is no confetti or champagne tonight, only a sense of tension and relief at the same time.

The lull will end as soon as it begins: time for one more cigarette and then back to the grind—soon it will be Tuesday. And there are votes to be gathered.

And in the end the votes will produce a result on Wednesday morning which will either see a younger black man at the helm of America, or retention by the party of power.

Either of which, at this point, are considered radical outcomes which will steer the course of the world in a starkly new direction.

Edward Espinoza is a political consultant and member of the Democratic National Committee. He served as a field director for 2008 presidential candidate Bill Richardson and contributes to the blog