Nepali Times
Primary experience


Place: Cambridge, Massachusetts. Time: December 1999.

A grizzled veteran of US elections is giving a two-hour lecture. A democrat with a 30-year of experience with local, regional and national-level elections, described what it was like working on a campaign.

He reminisced dealing with quirky, even psychotic, sides of various candidates. He regaled us with stories of brutally-packed, fueled-by-caffeine 20-hour-a-day work schedules. He talked about election strategies, voter mentality, issues around which pollsters frame questions, ways of dealing with the bad news and the media, and about how he had to play the role of a marriage/relationship counsellor to both the candidates and the campaign staff.

He also described the subculture of 'campaign lifers'-election junkies who spend their entire lives floating from one election campaign to another often marrying and divorcing one another. "No other work anywhere teaches you so much about human beings in such a short amount of time as working on an election campaign does," he said.

As a Nepali, I was fascinated. After the lecture, I asked him whether it was possible to work as a short-term volunteer at the Presidential Primary elections in New Hampshire. Who knows, the experience might come handy to work on campaigns in Nepal someday. I gave him a resume, and a few days later, I got a call from Manchester, New Hampshire asking me to come u

With a Democrat president in the last year of his final term at the White House then, the election year 2000 got off to a raucous start. Candidates from both the leading parties were vying with one another to win their parties' primaries in New Hampshire. The frontrunners among the Democrats were Vice President Al Gore and Senator Bill Bradley, while Texan Governor George W Bush and Senator John McCain were the Republican frontrunners. Some extracts from the dairy:

Day 5: Our messy single-room office adjoins a law firm, which allows us to use its phones, faxes and copiers for free. Five of us are on the floor-collating campaign literature and then stuffing it into thousands of envelopes that will be mailed to all registered Democrats living in villages and towns around Portsmouth. Only they will be choosing one of the Democratic candidates as the winner. The work is important but when you lick thousands of envelopes from morning to evening, the glamour of working on a presidential campaign starts to wear off. Think of George Constanza's girlfriend Susan in Seinfeld.

Day 10: The headquarters has sent us a list of ardent supporters. Apparently, the Democratic National Committee buys such lists from pollsters. These supporters have no objection if we plant campaign placards on their snow-covered lawns, and so, off we go to their homes. We also get up early in the morning to go to busy road intersections. Our job is to smile, shout and wave campaign placards to morning commuters, and try to engage some of them in conversation. Supporters honk thrice in glee, Republicans roll down their windows and scowl.

Day 16: We have a list of hundreds of undecided voters. These people can make or break the election. My job today is to call them up one by one, and try to convince them to vote for Gore. I find out that most are lonely elderly people who have long been retired from manufacturing jobs and who just want to talk and talk. Some slam down the phone as soon as they hear the word 'Gore'. Some ask detailed questions about arcane issues, and I have to tell them that I will call them up after I find out the answers, which I never do as there are hundreds more calls to make. After a dinner consisting of limp fries and flat Coke, I start writing pseudonymous letters to various regional newspapers-praising Al Gore. It's the usual 3AM by the time I go to sleep, only to get up three hours later.

Day 23: Senator Kerry is in town as a surrogate for Gore. My job is to take him from house to house and store to store so that he can 'press some flesh' and do 'retail campaigning'. All these places had been carefully selected and prepared in advance to show to the members of the media who are tagging behind Kerry how enthusiastic the voters are about Gore. I am learning that for a candidate everything he does boils down to how it looks in the media.

Day 27: There's a giant rally this afternoon at a high school auditorium. Rock music is playing, and cheerleaders, in their skimpy outfits, do the rah-rah thing up on the stage. Hundreds of supporters, wearing campaign buttons or holding placards, mill around. The emcee introduces Gore as the "next president of the United States", and the crowd goes wild. Gore gives his stump speech. He's using the occasion to prepare for a television debate later tonight. We watch that debate with 30 other people in a supporter's house. By now, we have all bonded as though we have known one another for years.
p to the coastal town of Portsmouth to help out with the Al Gore 2000 campaign.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)