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 The election was still some weeks away, but the race was over. I continued to go through the motions, giving little club speeches and media interviews but it was a hapless time for me.  Knowing that I owed it to my supporters who were hoping for a miracle that would never come and to other Democrats running for other offices, I submissively marched on.

 Although it would have no impact on the race or even be apparent to me at the time, the most fortuitous event of the campaign was yet to come.

 It was not long before the election when I had to fly back to Washington for an evening fundraiser held for me by Arizona’s Democratic congressional delegation.  It was not much of an event. Maybe a hundred people, mostly lobbyists, along with a few other dignitaries, thinking it party obligatory to show up. It was becoming clear to most in the know that I was going to go down hard.  

 That evening my mind was not on shaking more hands or raising money.  My thoughts were entirely of the person I had met with earlier that afternoon.

 I had walked into Barry Goldwater’s office just to see if he was in and say a quick hello.

 He had been friends with my dad and since then had become Dad to the entire Republican Party, a thoughtfully conservative party, not the one that has him spinning and thrashing in his grave today. Despite our political differences, I admired him greatly.  He had somehow been able to survive election after election saying any damn thing he wanted, to anyone he wanted, on any subject he wanted, and that had become unique in politics.

 As I walked into his office he stood up, not to greet me, but to shoo his staff out. He then told me to sit down and walked over to his door and slammed it shut.  I thought I was in for it, but the next few minutes were a revelation. Agitated, he began recalling his early days in politics when he was running for a city council seat in Phoenix.

 He had thought he saw a better way to manage the city, he wanted to have his say and did, but had not been able to do that kind of thing for many years, because he was now spending all of his time raising money to defend himself from well-healed Democratic challengers viciously attacking him with commercials that spoke nonsense to people by the thousands. Then he got to his point: he started talking about my closing debate remarks.  It was as if he had spoken every word himself.

 He talked about how politics had changed during his life, that it was a different cut we were selecting our leaders from, a nastier, less able group. He was sickened by what was now required to win.  He thought the behavior of campaigns and candidates was “dangerous” and “dishonorable” and that was part of the reason he was getting out.

 It all made me think back to when he was friends with Jack Kennedy, and they had agreed to campaign together across the country in Lincoln-Douglas style debates just before Kennedy was shot. What a difference, what a new standard that would have made!

 I left that meeting locked in thought.  He’s a Republican, one of the most prominent conservative Republicans in the nation, he sees what I see.  There is something here, there is something to be made from this, but what?

 On Election Day, the staff was in good spirits or at least putting up a pretty good show, the office was filled with excited volunteers coming and going.  This is what it was all about, the day the people got their say, got to choose their representatives.  It was an easy day to forget all the tracking polls that showed my plummeting numbers, to forget our lack of funds, to forget we had no commercial buys, to think, well . . . it could happen.

 I knew better, but I did dream a bit that evening as we all waited for the returns, particularly after John finally got around to taking that swing at me. Unfortunately, his swing hit one of my volunteers instead.  I ran into her as I was entering our campaign office. She was standing outside in tears.  When I asked what the matter was, she just looked up at me, mumbled “McCain’s gift,” and motioned inside.  

  I walked in where everyone was pretty angry. “Fuck him!” “What an Asshole!” “Let’s call the press and let them see what he is really like,” were a few of the blasts I heard.  “No,” I said, “the race is over.”

 The results rolled in showing things were worse than anyone expected – a humiliating rout of some 18 points.

  My efforts at the traditional call to concede were met with “John is very busy sleeping,” but I did have his gift.  It was surprisingly beautiful, upset as everyone was, no one had ever seen anything quite like it: an enormous funeral wreath of dead black roses.

(New chapters will be added roughly once a week)

Richard Kimball, Vote Smart Founder

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