Editor’s note — This column from Pat Haley originally ran 10 years ago in the Wilmington News Journal.
This column is for my friends who run for public office. They know the feeling all too well.
John Colter, a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, was forced to run the gauntlet by Blackfeet Indians in the region of Three Forks, Montana, in 1809. He ran between two rows of braves, who struck him, and then chased him with spears for miles.
What does running the gauntlet and running for elective office have in common?
Both can be a harrowing experience.
Having worked in many political campaigns, I have seen a familiar story. The potential candidate has never run for office before. He sits down at the kitchen table with his family. All his family encourage him to run for office.
Next, a few close friends second the motion. A few days later, some in the local political circles hear the rumor and tell the candidate it is a great idea. They tell him he should win easily. “Let us know if there is anything we can do to help,” they say.
Now on cloud nine, the candidate goes to the board of elections and takes out petitions. Soon, the fun begins. The new candidate starts traveling the county and people sign the petitions. They tell him they are happy that his hat is in the ring.
By this time, the political bug has bitten hard. The candidate believes he is well on his way to victory. He hasn’t met a soul who isn’t going to vote for him.
The candidate gives his petitions to the board of elections, and files for office.
He becomes the “toast of the town” at parties. People seek him out to talk. He shows up at political functions and many rush to tell him, “You don’t have a thing to worry about.”
The day comes to order signs, cards and buttons. Two weeks later they come in. The candidate cannot wait to start putting up yard signs. Soon, his signs are everywhere.
“This is easy,” the candidate thinks to himself. “I have this election wrapped up.” “Everyone says they are going to vote for me.”
Then, at the last minute, another candidate files petitions. “You still don’t have a thing to worry about you,” they tell him again. As he catches his breath he thinks back on the signs. Did his family really end up putting up all the signs? Some of the people who said to call were too busy to help. His announcement appears in the newspaper. So does his opponent’s.
As he rides around the county, he notices some of his signs are missing from yards. “Oh, we had to mow, but we will put it right back up,” they say. He never sees the sign again.
He calls a few people for donations. “I never get involved in primaries,” they tell him. “But I will support you in the General Election. Our entire family is going to vote for you.”
It is time to go to “Meet The Candidates” night. The candidate notes that some of the politicos stop talking when he approaches them. They assure him that he still has their support. But they must keep things a little lower key. “Do you think this is your time?” they ask. “Maybe you should wait until next year to run.”
Your friends call you and tell you that your opponent has put up over 100 signs. “You need to put up 101 or you are going to lose the election,” they say.
The candidate keeps going to the same functions and sees the same people. Everyone is giving advice. “Don’t attack your opponent.” “Keep the campaign clean.” “Attack your opponent.”
The candidate sees more of his signs coming down. This time they are being replaced by ones belonging to his opponent. He doesn’t know what to think. He keeps plugging away.
Finally, the big day comes. That night at the courthouse the political crowd is talking to him, but also talking to his opponent.
It is a tight race. The opponent surges ahead. It seems now some of the political supporters are shifting over to the opponent’s side of the room. They now are in deep conversation. They count the final ballots. The candidate wins!
Everyone rushes back over to his side. They slap him on the back. “I knew you could do it. You had it won from the beginning. I was with you all the way.”
“Oh, brother” he thinks to himself. “I feel like I’ve just run through a gauntlet.”
Pat Haley is a former Clinton County commissioner and former Clinton County sheriff.