Hooked on the drama of Election Day

The first Tuesday after the first Monday in November has just
passed; yet another high holy day of American democracy
– Election Day – is history.
The first Tuesday after the first Monday in November has just passed; yet another high holy day of American democracy – Election Day – is history. As I write this column, the results of this year’s elections are not yet known. But one thing is certain: I love politics, and I especially love Election Day.

No other venue offers the drama of politics. If a novelist wrote a plot in which two U.S. Senate candidates died a few days before elections two years apart, editors would send the manuscript back to the author with notes to find more creative ways to kill off characters.

But, tragically, in real life, Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., and Gov. Mel Carnahan, Democratic candidate for the Senate from Missouri, both lost their lives in airplane crashes in the waning days of their campaigns. Their deaths caused grief for their families and friends, but also threw last-minute wrenches into campaigns that helped determined which political party controls the U.S. Senate.

Sports isn’t the only arena in which underdogs take on heavy favorites. In the world of politics, two governorships spring immediately to mind: Reform Party member Jesse Ventura, a pro wrestler, who shocked the poltical world when he won the election for Minnesota governor, and the current race for Maryland’s top spot. In the latter case, Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, daughter of RFK, a member of the closest thing America has to a royal family, is in an unexpectedly tight race to become governor of Maryland, a heavily Democratic state.

In another part of the country, who would believe that you could find a Democrat, a member of the major party most associated with tolerance and gay rights, running an ad that some say implies his opponent is gay, based on a stereotype.

But, sadly, that happened this year. According to news reports, Montana Sen. Max Baucus ran an ad showing his Republican opponent, Mike Taylor, wearing an open-front shirt and gold chains, discussing his beauty business while massaging a man’s face.

“They’re trying to say that every barber and every cosmetologist, every manicurist or anybody in the beauty and hair fashion industry is homosexual,” Taylor said about Baucus’ commercial.

The ad, which accused Taylor of being involved in a student loan money scam when he ran a beauty school, was condemned by Human Rights Campaign, a Washington, D.C.-based gay rights lobbying group.

Here in the Golden State, both major parties have nominated a candidate for governor of California. Unfortunately, it seems very few California voters like either Republican Bill Simon or incumbent Democrat Gray Davis. Here we are, the most populous state in the nation, with more than 34.5 million residents, yet the two major parties can’t find two likeable guys to run for governor. Who’d have thunk it?

Unfortunately, it’s a common problem across the country. I heard one pundit say of the choices voters face, “It’s not the lesser of two evils, it’s the evil of two lessers.”

But I am not swayed. I love politics, and I especially love election day.

I can’t find an unimportant election. At the state level, governors and state legislators decide how much money will go to schools, health care and transportation, to name just three areas that impact almost everyone’s life.

Locally, your school board and city council members affect your daily life in profound ways: what books your kids read (or don’t read), which intersections get traffic lights, whether your schools help or hurt your property value, how many police officers patrol your streets, and whether or not a new business comes to town.

And there’s the drama of election night. It doesn’t have the fancy gowns and fashion police of the Oscars or Emmys, but election night features all the suspense of an awards show – we want to know: who are the winners, who are the losers? Cable news channels present all-night reports on the election returns, voter turnout, and who will have all-important control of U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.

Give me a bowl of popcorn and the remote, and I’m in hog heaven. I vote in every election, and then, political junkie that I am, glue myself to the TV all night and sometimes into the wee hours of the morning for returns. What could be more American than that?

Lisa Pampuch is the former city editor of The Dispatch. She lives in Morgan Hill with her husband and two children. You can reach her at [email protected]