The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

If You Ever Feel Discouraged . . .

Posted on | November 24, 2010 | 10 Comments

. . . think about Ann Marie Buerkle’s victory in NY-25. She is now six weeks away from being a member of Congress, but what about six weeks ago?

It was Sunday, Oct. 17, and Pete Da Tech Guy and I were driving on our way to cover the Buerkle campaign, when I got a call from the Lonely Conservative. The headline in that morning’s Syracuse Post-Standard was devastating:

Dan Maffei leads Anne Marie Buerkle
by 12 points in new poll

The poll showed Maffei with a 51-39 lead. If this poll was accurate, Buerkle was doomed. When we stopped for lunch at a McDonald’s in Hancock, N.Y., I put up a quick blog post scoffing at the poll, but honestly? I was heartsick.

You can’t put too much stock in polls. “Polls Are Not Campaigns,” as I’ve said, but I feared that this poll, which was a big front-page headline in the Syracuse paper, would have such a demoralizing effect on Buerkle’s supporters that it would become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Buerkle campaign had been kind of a late addition to my campaign radar — I didn’t blog about her until Oct. 12 — and at that time, I had no idea what an onslaught of attack ads she was facing. Maffei had a 5-to-1 money advantage, and he was piling on more than $200,000 a week in TV ads accusing Buerkle of everything you could imagine.

Pete and I attended a Buerkle event in Clyde, N.Y., and there were maybe 50 people there. Maybe. Here it was, two weeks before the election, and the Republican candidate was still speaking to small groups, while Maffei had 1,000 at his rally with Bill Clinton.

This was not encouraging.

The next day, we covered a press conference near Syracuse where Buerkle pushed back against a Maffei attack ad that accused her of failing to pay her taxes. Maybe there were 50 supporters there. Maybe. And just the fact that she was having to do a press conference to answer an attack ad . . .

Look: You answer a TV ad with a TV ad. That’s just Campaign 101. Buerkle was doing a press conference, counting on the media to convey her response to this ad, which indicated that she couldn’t afford to run TV ads answering Maffei’s attacks.

This was not encouraging.

So when Pete and I left NY-25, I was seriously worried about Buerkle’s prospects. She was fighting hard, but unless something happened to change the dynamic of the race, it didn’t look like she could pull it off.

Anyway, Election Night found me in Boca Raton, Fla., amid the happy chaos of Allen West’s victory party in FL-22. It was difficult to keep track of results elsewhere, but somewhere during that madness I saw (perhaps at the Lonely Conservative) that Maffei was ahead by 3,000 votes.

Oh, well, nice try. Close, but no cigar. You win some, you lose some.

And then, the next afternoon, Left Coast Rebel posted the news that, due to late returns from Wayne County, Buerkle was now leading by more than 600 votes!


What happened? How had this campaign — outspent 5-to-1 by the incumbent and trailing in the polls — managed to pull off such an upset?

Remember the old saying, “Where there’s life, there’s hope”?

About five days before the election — while I was on my way to VA-9 to cover Morgan Griffith — the Maffei campaign played the “extremist” card with this ad:

OK, game over, right? She’s a kooky “anti-choice” extremist wingnut. Somebody like that can’t possibly get elected in this supposedly moderate district, right? But the Lonely Conservative didn’t see it that way:

NY25 covers all of Onondaga and Wayne Counties, and part of Cayuga and Monroe Counties. But a large portion of NY25?s voters are in Onondaga County. I did some digging and found out that there were 147,332 Catholics in Onondaga County alone in 2000. . . . I’m sure enough of those Catholics are registered voters who could swing the election in Buerkle’s favor. This race hasn’t been about social issues. It’s been about the economy, the direction of our country, and the failed policies of the current administration and Congress. By running this ad Dan Maffei just gave undecided pro-life voters a reason to vote for Ann Marie Buerkle.

See? Buerkle needed a miracle to win and, by highlighting her pro-life record in the final days of the campaign, her opponent gave her that miracle. Out of more than 200,000 votes cast in NY-25, Buerkle won by 657 votes, and how many of those votes were decided on the pro-life issue?

Da Tech Guy says “nobody outside of me, Stacy and the Lonely Conservative thought [Buerkle] was a winner,” but I had given her up for lost on Election Night.

You see that she and her supporters had every reason to become discouraged and quit. But they kept hoping and fighting and, thanks to an unexpected miracle, they won.

So hang in there. Where there’s life, there’s hope.


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