Election 2010: Homegrown Politics


It’s 12 a.m. on election night. And what’s a left for a campaign worker to do?
Deify your candidate before any reporter with a recording device. Check
Create a last minute strategy for removing as many yard signs as quickly as possible. Check.
Hit the dozen or so big bars and mini bars scattered around your party’s headquarters. Then hit them again. Check. And double check.
Put yourself to bed.
Not so fast on that one.
The election buzz and campaign excitement started to wane around midnight at the Idaho Democratic headquarters as results trickled in and party loyalists faced the returns and declared an end to the 2010 campaign. But the work wasn’t over for many. Months of twelve and 20 hour workdays would stretch into one last 24 hour day as campaign staffers and volunteers stood by their candidate one last time.
“I think I’ll just sleep on this bench,” a tired campaign manager said as the night began to roll into another continuous work day.

“Once you see the finish line — food, sleep — none of that matters,” said Rep. Susan Chew campaign manager, Michael Hays. “I’ve been working straight since March. I only take one day off a week,” Hays explained. “But if I worked 60 hours in a week, that means my candidate worked 80 hours.”

Supporters took time on election night to wander from room to room of the Democratic headquarters at Owyhee Plaza in a kind of walk-about party that included some congratulations and reminders that in Idaho, politicians really are just people and politics are often family affairs.

Poll results rolled across the screen in Rep. Branden Durst’s (D-Boise) suite. Pizza arrived. Volunteers came and went. Family arrived. And more family arrived. And pretty soon the room was full of a whole lot of Dursts. Eight year-old Nicholas Durst found his Pokémon video game a bit more captivating than the early returns, but admitted, “I hope my dad wins.”

Nicholas and his three siblings, ages six, three and 1 ½ joined four generations of Dursts to work on their dad’s campaign. Durst’s 85 year-old grandma, Betty Nelson, campaigned at nearly 500 doors in District 18. And the kids proved themselves as great envelope licker’s, their mom, Jamie Durst, said. And if the Durst’s maintain their record, there may be more little helpers posing next to their dad on future campaign brochures.

“Every election, we’ve had a child every time we’ve won,” Jamie Durst said. “That won’t happen this time, but at this rate, we’ll have 20 children.”

If family wasn’t already a part of a campaign, then the campaign staff often became a family.
A shoestring budget and a late start meant that the Tom Sullivan Senate campaign needed to pull resources, cut costs, and maximize everything — including space. The campaign rented a two bedroom town house and stuffed it full of volunteers, campaign staff and the Sullivan family. Twelve people lived and worked in the town house.

“It was like a frat house,” Sullivan field director Kassie Cerami said. “We have memories. There were a couple of people who said that we should write a book about it. I always thought we should have been in a reality T.V. show.”

Campaign workers remember steeping on children’s toys, people sleeping in the walk-in closet and always something delicious cooking on the stove at the Sullivan headquarters.

“This was more than grassroots,” Cerami said of the campaign. “It was homegrown.”