Ground Zero at the Lieberman Campaign
by Pamela E. Winthrop '95
The clock on the wall reads 10:30 pm. Some friends have invited me
to their house to watch ER. Instead, I am sitting happily behind a
computer screen in a poorly lit office on Capitol Hill. This was the
scenario on many weeknights and most Saturdays last fall. I wasn't
working overtime for an Internet start-up firm or studying for the
LSATs. After volunteering for events at Vice President Gore's
residence for two years and getting acquainted with his staff, I was
now volunteering for the Gore/Lieberman campaign in the Washington,
D.C., office of Senator Joseph Lieberman's wife, Hadassah.
Each Thursday, Mrs. Lieberman's D.C. press secretary, Joy, participated
in a trip call with the campaign's Nashville headquarters
to determine Mrs. Lieberman's travel schedule for the following
week, the groups she would address, and the message she would convey.
My job, as a policy adviser to Mrs. Lieberman, was to compile research
materials for her campaign stops. Whether she was meeting female union
members in Pittsburgh or participating in a roundtable discussion
with working parents on children's health insurance in Detroit,
I researched and prepared multipage documents that presented the current
problem, accomplishments of the Clinton/Gore administration, and goals
for the Gore/Lieberman administration. Because her office was small
(three staffers), I was able to do high-level, meaningful policy work.
When I was invited to travel to the Nashville headquarters to work
during the final week of the campaign, I jumped at the opportunity.
Politics, while not my profession, is my passion. Thanks to my supportive
employer, I took a leave of absence and headed south. Within twenty-four
hours of arriving at the Nashville headquarters, which were housed
in a warehouse, the field organizer deployed teams out to swing states
to campaign. Joy and I were handed the keys to a rental car and we
headed eight hours west to St. Louis. I soon learned that Missouri
was the top assignmentthe center of American politics in the
year 2000, where anything could happen. According to pollsters, deceased
Governor Mel Carnahan was beating incumbent United States Senator
John Ashcroft for the Senate seat. At midnight, we arrived at the
strip-mall headquarters of the Missouri Democratic campaign. We spent
our first night stuffing information packets for union members to
pick up at six the following morning and distribute door to door.
The next few days were filled with visits to residential neighborhoods,
where we walked for blocks handing out literature encouraging Democrats
to vote. While I enjoyed talking to voters and loved being on
the campaign trail, the work was monotonous and we soon tired
of the fast-food life. After not eating vegetables for days, we found
a chicken franchise, and I ordered a plate full of squash and corn.
It was heavenly. On Election Day, we continued our get-out-the-vote
effort. We visited arun-down neighborhood where I met an elderly man
who sat in his freezing-cold living room watching a black-and-white
television. He couldn't afford heat so he wore three sweaters.
His face lit up when he saw me come to his door. He invited me in
and told me how much he liked Vice President Gore but said he wasn't
going to vote. When I asked why, he showed me a notice from the Board
of Elections informing him that he had to appear in person to vote
this year or he would not be allowed to vote in the future. I tried
to convince him that he would be allowed to vote and offered to drive
him to the polls. He politely refused, telling me that his vote didn't
Later, I helped out at a phone bank by calling residents to encourage
them to vote. Many of the people I spoke with were frustrated by the
long lines at the polls, and others told me they tried to vote but
were turned away. As the sun set on St. Louis, the Missouri press
secretary and I rushed to the courthouse to join the request for an
injunction to keep the polls open two additional hours so that people
who had had to leave the long lines to return to work would still
have a chance to vote. We were delighted when the judge ruled that
the St. Louis Board of Elections was not prepared for the huge onslaught
of voters and ordered the polls to remain open until 8 pm. The secondary
issue in the case involved repeated reports that African Americans
were being sent away from the polls and not allowed to vote.
As we were leaving the courthouse, news cameras had gathered on the
steps to report the outcome of the hearing. Fox News asked to interview
me and the St. Louis director of the NAACP about the apparent injustices
against black voters. I told the story about my elderly friend and
his notice from the Board of Elections and also recounted the conversations
I'd had with people over the phone.
Hours later, as Joy and I drove back to Nashville, we listened to
National Public Radio report that Vice President Gore had won Florida,
then that Florida had been taken away from him. At 2 am, we walked
into a nearly deserted headquarters and joined a small group of staffers
in the boiler room, where key staffers gather on Election
Day to track exit polls and evaluate results. Despite the five televisions
all programmed to different stations, a deathly silence hung over
the room. My last activity of the campaign was watching Gore Campaign
Chairman Bill Daley declare on television that a recount in Florida
had to take place before a winner could be determined. At 5 am, my
head hit the pillow in my hotel for a few hours of sleep before my
flight back to Washington and my regular life.
This piece represents the first in a new series of First Person Mount Holyoke columns, personal accounts written by members of the Mount Holyoke community that will appear occasionally in CSJ.