By Lori Saldaña / Part Four of Four
Yesterday Lori Saldaña discussed the realities of putting together a door-to-door campaign.
I’ll always remember the shock, joy and celebration my volunteers, friends and family experienced when the first voting results came in on Election night, shortly after 9 pm. I was leading in the 3-way results by 10 points, with 40% of the vote going to me and 30% going to each of my two opponents. The number varied little over the ensuing hours, ultimately staying there for the remainder of the night.
We had overcome the odds and won big, despite being outspent by a ridiculous amount.
My father – a retired reporter from the “Evening Tribune” days of local newspapers- had a wonderful night. He walked happily around Golden Hall, leaning heavily on his cane, reconnecting with many of his friends from the journalism community. He encouraged them to interview me and made sure I got on all the TV stations. (He filled in for my lack of a media consultant that night.)
I called my mother, who had stayed up late at her extended care facility to watch the returns on television. Happily, she would be well enough to join us on Election Night in November. (Sadly, my grandmother passed away in September, at age 97, before seeing me elected.)
Another thing I’ll always remember from that night at Golden Hall: the 180 degree turnaround of the political crowd. Suddenly, elected officials and their staff members were coming over and shaking my hand, expressing interest and support, whereas over the previous months they had been avoiding me.
Generous promises were made (not all were fulfilled) and offers of support began flowing in.
What made the difference? Receiving 40% of the vote in a 3-way race. I hadn’t changed as a human being, or as a candidate. I was still an unproven, progressive Latina running in a “purple” district containing a majority of white residents.
But overcoming millions of dollars and winning by 10 points transformed me from what many had considered a disruptive, upstart, troublemaking long-shot, to the Democratic nominee for State Assembly-and that was all that mattered.
They weren’t supporting me as a person: they were supporting me because I represented a continued majority of Democrats in the State Assembly. All that mattered to the Speaker and others, from that day until November, was getting me the support needed to keep Assembly Democrats in power.
In addition to the change in attitude among elected officials and their staff, this result was an astonishing outcome that shocked pundits, consultants, fundraisers up and down the state.
As the results continued to come in and I remained solidly in the lead, my broken down, paper-clipped mobile phone began ringing with congratulatory messages. These came from around California, including one from the Assembly Speaker, inviting me to Sacramento for a luncheon with other primary victors.
The battery ultimately died, sometime after midnight. When I awoke the next morning, after only a few hours sleep, there were dozens of messages in my voicemail.
Many were from people who had suddenly realized they had “misunderestimated” what our campaign was capable of- and were now trying to figure out ways to make amends.
Some were from campaign “experts,” with promises of funds. Many were facing having to explain their error in judgement to contributors who had been convinced that one of my two opponents would be on their way to Sacramento for a lunch with the Speaker, and had written checks accordingly.
For many of these people, their campaign acumen and credibility as political advisers was suddenly being scrutinized, putting them in uncomfortable and unfamiliar territory.
The next question for many of them was: how to take this unlikely nominee forward, and win in November?
For me it was: how to keep up with teaching, and help my mother move back home. We would need help to determine when and if she would be healthy enough to live independently, let alone care for my grandmother again.
This divergence of priorities- the divide between personal responsibilities and family obligations and the realities of the political world- would continue over the coming months and years.
Part One in this series discussed her motivations and considerations in deciding to run for Assembly. In Part Two she sized up her opposition and realized that she couldn’t rely on the political pros to win this race. Part Three discussed the challenges of setting up a true grass-roots campaign.