One thing that’s truly great about being a journalist in Virginia, as it may very well be in many other states: every year is election year.
And for the record, every statement in this post should have an asterisk with the footnote “all politics aside.” This is not a partisan post.
Every odd-numbered year is a Virginia House election and a Charlottesville city council election. Virginia senators are elected to four-year terms on the odd years. And then, of course, the even years give us U.S. House elections, the occasional U.S. Senate election and the ever-dramatic presidential election.
The year 2012 shaped up to be quite the contest in a number of races. The last time I covered national elections like this was in spring 2008, when then-Sen. Hillary Clinton won the much-hyped Pennsylvania primary against some guy by the name of Barack Obama. All politics aside, it was an exciting atmosphere. Seeing Clinton joined by her husband and daughter on stage at the end of the night is something I’ll never forget.
The room at a posh hotel in Center City Philadelphia exuded enthusiasm and relief. It was widely believed whoever won the Pennsylvania primary would go on to win the Democratic nomination for president that year.
Sometimes, political analysts like to play jokes, I guess.
This year, I had the privilege of covering Tim Kaine’s victory headquarters in Richmond. The former Virginia governor set up a campaign against another former governor and former U.S. Senator – George Allen – to pick up the seat vacated by retiring Sen. Jim Webb.
The race between Kaine and Allen had been deadlocked for much of the 19 months of campaigning. The last poll numbers gave each governor 50 percent of the vote. I went into this night knowing it would be exciting.
Reporters spend a lot of election night sitting around. There’s not much to do. It’s not like you’re going to get an exclusive with the candidate. We all got a chance to do a one-on-one with Kaine before the crowds arrived.
Then, when the crowds do arrive, all you can do is watch them drink alcohol and have a good time as the results trickle in.
There was a point in the night, though, when Allen took a hefty lead in the results. The anxiety and stress in the room was hard not to feel.
It was at this point where I thought – if Kaine lost, this night wouldn’t be as fun as I thought it’d be.
Of course, that’s a completely self-serving sentiment. Election night is not about me. I’m not supposed to have fun. Think of the candidate and his staff, who have lived this campaign 24/7 for 19 months. It’s about them.
But sometimes, a perk of a journalism job is having fun, since that’s what the folks you’re focusing on are doing.
I imagined the Allen campaign headquarters at this time. Instead of stress and anxiety, there was elation and optimism. But quickly, the two headquarters would swap.
Kaine ended up winning the election by a more-than-definitive margin. His victory speech was emotional and inspired. His wife and the now-senior senator from Virginia, Mark Warner, joined him on stage. Both of them shared the excitement.
On the Allen side, though, what can you say? No words, especially immediately after an election loss, can soften the blow. No words can convey the blood, sweat and tears spent on a losing campaign when they all expected a much different outcome.
At some point in my career, I’ll cover the other side. And I’ll have the task of trying to convey a fraction of the disappointment the candidates are feeling. I look forward to that day, obviously not for their sake, but for mine.
Until then, take in the victories.