Heartbreak is not just for lovers. If you have ever worked on a political campaign, you know what I’m talking about. Helping one person achieve his or her goal of becoming the next state representative, U.S. senator, congressperson, governor or town councilor becomes your singular focus once you commit to The Campaign.

You watch the polls, read everything written about your candidate, block out all other news and hope and pray that he or she wins. Everything the opponent says (never use the opponent’s name publicly) is wrong. Everything your candidate says is significant.

You agree to wear an unflattering T-shirt from the primary color spectrum to make yourself seen. You yell as loud as you can to make yourself heard. You prostrate yourself in front of your neighbors and friends for a $5 donation. You make calls to party members who have been contacted 50 times before. And you do all this because you fall in love – you fall in love with the process.

You put your whole self in, you take your whole self out, you put your whole self in and you shake it all about until November.

Kids are the greatest campaigners. If you want unconditional enthusiasm on a campaign, enlist a kid. Kids believe – of course they believe – that their candidate, their adult, will win. They reflect the positive-thinking philosophy of a campaign. They understand that all thoughts must be winning thoughts!

Never, within earshot of a kid on a campaign, do you say anything about losing. Casting doubt is saved for more important disappointments, like:


“OK, so we might get an ice cream, if you are good and if it’s open.” “If it’s not open, no whining.” “We will get one tomorrow.”

You never say:

“We might not win this election, and if we don’t, no sad faces.” “We can try again in another four years.” “Now let’s go knock on some stranger’s door.”

Election night parties are planned for wins only. Balloons are hung, food is laid out and every finger and toe is crossed in anticipation of the results. Campaign kids run around, jacked up on canned soda and carbohydrates and oblivious to the possibility of failure.

When the polls are closed and the numbers come in and your candidate is not at the top, the room gets quiet.

The kids slow down and are pulled in close by their parents and aunts and uncles, who try to explain, “No, we are probably not going to win.” You say, “Yes, there may still be a chance,” even when you know there is not.


You ask these tired kids, “Don’t you want to go home and go to bed?” The answer is always “No,” because they recognize that hearts are breaking and they are needed. They realize that all the screaming and yelling and marching and waving signs did not work. They see that all around them, their adults look sad. Roles are reversed: “It’s OK, Mom.”

The justifying, explaining and reasoning over the defeat begin, and after a long night of excitement and disappointment, the candidate appears and makes the speech that all losing candidates have to make:

“It wasn’t in the cards this time.” “Thank you all for your hard work.” “We ran a good race.” “We couldn’t have made it this far without all of you.”

Congratulations are offered to the winner, and for the first time in months, humbled by the experience of losing, your candidate speaks the name of the opponent.

Kids watch and take their lead from the adults, and sometimes these small wise witnesses keep you from wailing, which you want to do because you believed that this was the time that your candidate was going the distance.

As the 2014 election madness approaches, let us remember: Role modeling is not reserved for the dinner table and brushing teeth. Kids, not just campaign kids, are listening. So be nice.

Jolene McGowan lives and works in Portland with her husband, daughter and dog and has no plans to leave, ever. She can be contacted at:


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