High and Tight

You never say it’s in the bag, but those of us on the Bill Graves campaign staff 20 years ago went to bed the night before the election feeling more good than bad.

More happy than sad.

The final weekend nationwide polling was trending toward a big year for Republicans. Our guy had served two 4-year terms as Kansas Secretary of State and was running for Governor. (BTW, I started capitalizing “Governor” that summer and have ever since, even though the

AP Stylebook

says caps only before a name.)

I was no longer a journalist. Stylebook, schmylebook. We had a Governor to elect, thank you very much.

The opponent was a six-term Democratic Congressman from Kansas’ 2nd U.S. House District, pretty much the eastern third of our state, save Wyandotte and Johnson counties. Chunks of Douglas would shift between the 2nd and the 3rd

, depending on the prevailing reapportionment winds.

Ambitious and polished, Jim Slattery was a formidable opponent. He grew up in an Atchison County community called — and I am not making this up – Good Intent. He worked on the railroad to earn money for college.

Oh yeah? My guy learned about politics sweeping out his family’s livestock trucks. And he loaded the boxes in the freight trucks high and tight.

Effective and efficient. Just like he’d managed the office of Secretary of State the previous eight years.

Personally, I liked Slattery. I’d even voted for him a time or three. But when one goes to work on a political campaign at that level, you love your guy and your job is to beat the other guy.

The first alternate spellcheck option that popped up for Slattery was Slithery. He was a Washington Congressman, so we called him that out loud. He’d voted to raise taxes, so we shared that information with voters.

My skin grew thick pretty quick that year. The East Coast hired media guns played a cut-throat game and when they were casting about for a fall guy, I learned how to be elsewhere.

On Election Day, we knew by mid-morning we would win.

Victory cigars. The Governor's (my caps) '98 re-election team.

Four years later, a leave of absence from the Governor’s staff to go back to the campaign. In ’98, the challenge came from the right. The Primary opponent was the former Chair of the State GOP, who had won the party apparatus fair and square by suiting up and working at the precinct committee level.

Our oppo research revealed his Achilles Heel. As a state lawmaker, he’d voted for some sizeable tax hikes. We wasted no time taking to the airwaves to define him before he could define himself.

If we can win in August, we can play golf in September.

We did. And we did.

Twenty years later, it’s the eve of another election in my beloved home state.

Sure, there’s more money in today’s politics and more vehicles to deliver the message.

Today alone, I’ve deleted a dozen robocalls and hung up on Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, who, regardless of whether you agree with his politics – was the rising tide behind the 1994 Republican Revolution that helped lift the boats of a lot of candidates with an R behind their name that year.

Sorry, Newt.

I’m so grateful and privileged to have had that opportunity. Free advice from a precipice approacher: Any young person interested in government or civic engagement or making the world a better place should work on a political campaign.

Despite the cynicism inherent in today's politics, there is always room for idealism.