What I saw and heard at a political candidate's "meet and greet" at a crowded local sports-bar restaurant, amid the thundering din of twenty televisions blasting out the Chicago Black Hawk's Stanley Cup playoff game (#6 in the series):
I saw a barely-known candidate and his staff circulate among tables full of strangers, introducing the concept of a challenge to a Chicago Democratic machine incumbent whom most political observers would consider unbeatable, no matter the dirt clinging to him.
I saw a handful of people, among them young marrieds and another political candidate too, approach him, introduce themselves, and talk to him about their concerns.
I saw a young woman approach her potential future U.S. Congressman and ask him "just one question" -- namely, whom he held finally responsible for the oil spill in the gulf. His answer satisfied her, and then she explained her background. Her husband, she said, worked for BP, and most people's views on the subject infuriated her because most people did not have the facts. (I didn't. Who has ever heard of TransOcean, and the argument on the rig the morning of the explosion?)
I heard the candidate's campaign manager describe her own experience running for office in the state. She was ahead in all the polls, she said, until the Wednesday before the primary election this past February. She attended meet-and-greet events, she traveled, she spoke with mayors in her district, she tried to be the best candidate possible and to get the word out about herself and her views. The weekend before the election, her opponent, unknown, inactive, and invisible, received a cash dump of $35,000 into his war chest, the bulk of it from a local union and the rest from two big local construction industry firms. "So what did this do?" I asked -- "it bought exposure for him?" She agreed. "It bought exposure," she said. He won. Memo to the common man: you may only contribute $2400 to the candidate of your choice, in a primary and in a general election.
I saw the candidate's wife, young and pretty, cheerfully greet total strangers in a loud, strange, and tiring venue for what probably seems, and indeed may be, the umpteenth time that day, that week, that month. It was also their wedding anniversary.
I saw the candidate, and the staff and the small handful of people who had come out to meet him, at length relax and eat potato wedges and chicken wings, and crane their necks to watch a bit of the hockey game along with the rest of the patrons, because really there was no getting away from it.
I heard the candidate admit "it is tough" drawing a decent sized group to these meet-and-greet events. It's only June, the November elections seem a long way away, and the very people who might be most inclined to vote for a conservative Republican representative in Illinois are also the type to not put politics at the center of their lives. They are the type to want to live and let live.
And at the end of the night I saw the candidate take the bill for the potato wedges and the chicken wings, look at it, and reach into his back pocket for his wallet and his credit card.
We all shook hands and left, and the hockey fans stayed.
By the way, the Hawks won.
For more information: Isaac Hayes 2010