We've been hearing for days about a very funny yet sad tale of a Senate Republican aide's hellish experience doing get-out-the-vote efforts for now evicted Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee. It's been making the rounds in GOP circles and now we've got it. In exchange for authenticating it, we agreed to keep the aide's name out and let him make a few edits. What he writes in his report about the weekend before Election Day should be enough to scare any future GOTV volunteer. The memo:
The gathering looks exactly how I expected it to. A random collection of sleep-deprived Hill folk clutching Dunkin Donuts coffee in a nondescript airport hotel lobby. Ahhhh, yes, it's campaign time once again. Time for sign waving, door walking, and Republican bonding.
We're all here to defend Lincoln Chafee, the most liberal Republican in Congress. Sure, National Journal ranks him as the 44th most liberal senator, right between Evan Bayh and Mary Landrieu. Sure, campaigning for a Republican in Rhode Island is like campaigning for Terrell Owens in downtown Philly. Sure, the majority's probably not at stake ... but let's do this thing.
I get assigned to Barrington, an old-money hamlet along Rhode Island's Eastern Shore. Good enough. I've brought warm clothes, a Red Sox hat (to look like a local despite my distaste for the team), and the afore-mentioned Dunkin Donuts coffee. I drive down in my mother's car with an affable political appointee from USDA.
We pull into a little strip-mall where I assume we're going to set up camp before we get out to the soccer games or the neighborhoods or whatever. No, we're informed by our "captain" that we're going to be making some calls this morning. The "captain," aka The Slavedriver, is a fast-talking Hill staffer.
No worries, I find an empty cubicle and dive into the stack of numbers. I quickly learn the average Rhode Islander is a woman in her mid 50s. She really has no desire to be disturbed at 9:00 on a Saturday morning. She hates Bush and thinks the war in Iraq is a huge mistake. She's met Senator Chafee a few times and was always happy to support his dad. While she likes him, she concerned a vote for Chafee is essentially a vote for Bush. Quite frankly, she thinks none of this is my business and wishes that these @$%#ing phone calls would stop.
Hours go by while our captain supplies us with more coffee, donuts, and pretzels. I haven't heard her make any calls yet, because it did take her a good hour-and-a-half to find the Dunkin' Donuts across the street. After take-out pizza for lunch, she has an announcement. She has "statewide numbers." Lovely, I'd love to hear some internal polling or geographic data. Oh no. She's going to inform us of how many calls our team did during the "morning shift." WHAT?!??! They're actually tallying how many calls we do and scolding us if we don't hit "our numbers?" Really? Oh, but she wasn't finished.
"Lauren, you made 105 calls during the first shift, Drew 85, Beth 101..." Yup, they're keeping individual stats. This seems a little harsh considering that we are, ya know, volunteers.
After a few more hours of bothering Rhode Islanders during their otherwise peaceful Saturday afternoon, we get second shift stats from the Slavedriver. It seems our numbers were down during the afternoon. She scolds two younger female staffers for giggling too much. The Slavedriver stops by my cube to instruct that I shouldn't say "Lincoln Chafee," but rather "Senator Chafee." Apparently, $2.27 per hour doesn't buy you the kind of labor it used to.
At this point, I launch an escape plan to ensure I can make dinner with my parents, sister, and wife at 7:30 in Providence. I'm told I can leave, but that it'll hurt our numbers. I should also call Annie to just let her know. I have no idea who "Annie" is and don't call her.
Sunday arrives with new optimism. Maybe today we get out and convince real folks to vote for Chafee. No such luck - back to the empty cubicle in Barrington. This time I drive three fellow volunteers. Erica is a tall, sarcastic communications staffer. She's married and lives in Old Towne. Nicole is a perky, short, and incredibly bubbly Hill intern. She's still in college and likes Mac computers. Kathryn is another intern. A soft-spoken, blonde Southerner, she has no idea how she ended up here.
The first rule in slavedriving school should be: Never let the underlings talk to one another. We ask one another why on Earth they flew us up here to make calls when we could have sat in D.C. and done them. Anyway, the four of us decide to make a stand today against the Slavedriver.
The first shift arrives with a challenge and a moral dilemma. The challenge is that the top two callers get to do door-to-door in the afternoon. The moral dilemma is whether or not to fill in the bubbles for people I never called to get through more sheets to earn the prized release from cubicle hell. I decide not to, not because I feel any responsibility to bug this fine New Englanders, but rather I realize I would feel sorry if I beat out another volunteer would was doing his/her calls legitimately.
I lose the contest, eat the horrible take-out for lunch and go back to my cubicle. Fortunately, Nicole has given me her Mac laptop so I can track my fantasy teams. We also have a visitor from the campaign. She's come to tell us how great we are. We learn she lives in D.C., but has been up in R.I. since June. We begin to get curious what you have to do to incite an individual of authority at RNC Headquarters to yell, "Damn it! You! Off to Rhode Island!" Did she not raise enough money? Make a bad joke about Bush? Break a fax machine? We're all left to wonder.
After Annie walks in none other than the Man Himself. Linc, as just about everyone calls him reminds me of my incredibly shy 8-year-old cousin Mark, if only Mark were an incumbent Republican United States Senator running in a state where Bush polls at 23%. Linc asks Annie if people are sick of being called. She lies. He also asks if we're calling supporters or just a random collection of citizens. She doesn't know. You can almost hear him trying to decide whether or not to run for Governor in 2010. After more bad take-out, we're allowed to stop calling at 8:30, a mere eleven hours after we started.
Monday comes with more calls, but from a new location, a hotel room on the third floor. The Slavedriver tells us that if we're really good, we might get a special treat in the afternoon. Apparently, she doesn't realize that anything that keeps us in this room is probably not welcome. After she leaves for another multi-hour trip to Dunkin' Donuts (where we can only assume the menu is written in Hindu), Terri, a recently engaged LA, begins to incite rebellion.
Upon her return, we're lectured about being team players. Apparently, the Slavedriver has a spy in the room so she knows what we're saying behind her back.
Now we're all in the same room and doing our best to crack each other up. We're leaving messages as K-Fed, talking to citizens with horrible British accents, and making up songs about Chafee.
Glancing to my right, I see Kathryn doodling the phrase "KILL ME NOW" on her Chafee for Senate binder. I don't want to say she's lost her mind, but if this was a bad World War II movie, she'd be the guy that everyone else in the platoon needs to check on every half-hour or so. Not to compare this experience to a frigid trench in Belgium circa 1943... that would be wrong.
Finally, we're allowed outside to do door-to-door after more horrible take-out food for lunch. It's 60 degrees, leaves are falling, kids are playing basketball on old hoops, and I'm back in the New England I knew in my childhood. If only this could have been the whole weekend.
Election Day at last. I get a cell phone call at 7:00 saying that I had been moved to the Newport group. I call down there to find out if there's any chance of getting outside. None. I'll just stay with my group then, thanks. I arrive to find my group ELATED to see me. Apparently, the Slavedriver had tried to get Erica and I moved out of the group, because we're not exactly team players. I told them as long as they are stuck here, so am I. Kinda like how John McCain refused to go home and leave his fellow POW's behind. Not to compare this experience to a North Vietnamese prison circa 1967... that would be wrong.
Now we're stuck back with the USDA guy, two interns from Dick Lugar's office, and an odd old man who looks like the Grandpa from the Adams Family. I set up shop with Nicole and Kathryn, both of whom are trying to figure out what they've done to deserve this treatment.
After some bad take-out food, we've just about lost it when Grandpa decides to lecture us about working harder. Terri and I determine that it's a sign to take a break. During the break, we have this conversation:
Terri: "This has been the most miserable experience of my life."
Me: "I think I'm losing the will to live."
Terri: "Over my 24 year on this planet, this is the most depressed I've ever been."
Me: "Wait, I thought you were 26?"
Terri: "Yeah, but this has taken at least two years off my life."
After we move upstairs, we're finally given sheets of people that said they're going to vote for Chafee, but haven't voted yet. We were told we'd get these at noon; it's 6:00 at night. "It's an imperfect system," Brian the USDA guy says.
After more take-out, which looked a lot like the same take-out we had for lunch, we're supposed to keep calling until 8:30. "We've called over 2000 people today," the Slavedriver says. I'm opposed to her using the pronoun "we" since she doesn't make calls. Oh, she also informs us that we're not invited to the victory party.
If people were annoyed about being bugged before, they're FURIOUS about it now. I'm called a "douche bag" by one gentleman. Erica tricks a citizen into revealing his vote with "Aniston or Jolie?...okay...Chafee or Whitehouse?"
The last call goes out at about 8:15 when the Slavedriver declares we're allowed to stop. We go to the victory party after all, even though it is certainly not a victory and barely a party. Linc's lost 53-47. CNN makes the call even before I get my suit on.
So now I'm back at my desk. It's raining. Emails have piled up. Both my fantasy teams lost. Burns and Talent are done and Allen's about to be. I glance around what is, for now, my office. My wife calls. She's thinking about picking up some take-out for dinner.