Politics from the Inside Out

Wow. Has this been some kind of ride. As I write this I sit in the back seat of Steve Driehaus' car at the Delhi Township Senior Center. It's Election Day morning.

Wow. Has this been some kind of ride.

As I write this I sit in the back seat of Steve Driehaus’ car at the Delhi Township Senior Center. It’s Election Day morning, and since July I’ve been working on his campaign full-time as communications director.

Right now — but hopefully by time you read this column — we have no idea whether Driehaus has unseated seven-term incumbent Rep. Steve Chabot. But we feel good … and nervous. I am sure that Chabot’s camp feels the same way. (Find CityBeat's coverage of the election results and Election Night reactions here.)

I suppose the journey that’s taken me here isn’t surprising. When I was 19 years old I ran for the Northwest Local School Board, the district I attended for all but one year of my pre-college education, came in ninth out of 11 candidates (including one write-in) and received exactly — a number I’ve never forgotten — 3,325 votes, or 6.2 percent of the vote. The three top vote-getters in the field race were elected, the third place finisher getting just more than 6,500 votes, or 12 percent of the vote. I was, more or less, halfway there.

At that tender age I learned a lot about people and politics. My experience working for Driehaus has proven that reporters — I covered politics for The Cincinnati Post the last two years of its existence — really see only asmall bit of what goes on inside campaigns.

Back in 1993, my school board candidacy yielded much praise and encouragement and at least one odd moment (that I can remember) that brings to light some of the peculiarity of behind-the-scenes politics. A youth minister at a large Christian church — who was on the Northwest school board at the time — came to me and asked me to drop out of the race. If I did, he said, he would guarantee I got help for the next time I ran.

I thought about it for a second and declined. I wasn’t running for next time; I was running for this time. It was democracy, and I was sticking to it. He wasn’t happy.

After my campaign, I actually worked on Chabot’s 1994 campaign for Congress, canvassing neighborhoods and handing out literature. It’s funny to think about now, working for a guy whose policies and beliefs, for the most part, come nowhere near where I stand myself.

As a reporter, I got along great with Chabot. Most smart politicians work hard to be nice to the media members they encounter.

When I thought about taking this job with the Driehaus campaign, I wondered how Chabot might feel. My Republican friends — many who work in politics — believed that he would understand that it’s business. I had a dream, in fact, that I had to stand up at a political event and introduce myself as Driehaus’ campaign press person and looked across the room at Chabot, who felt betrayed.

I got an opportunity to re-tell that story recently to Chabot, who turned to me and said I did betray him. He then walked away, without cracking a grin or saying anything. I was a little surprised, but it made me want to work harder to unseat him.

Sitting on the sidelines for so many years has been fun. Looking at issues from both sides and writing about it and sharing it with my readers has been a passion.

I have to say, though, there’s a cathartic feeling about being able to get in, get involved and help get a person elected to Congress who you believe will really make positive changes inside our government. Seeing Sen. Barack Obama pack in people as diverse as the country itself in places like Ault Park and Nippert Stadium gives me hope, not to be cliched, that there’s something positive on the horizon.

Whether you’re liberal or conservative, everyone can agree that the past eight years have been dismal. President Bush has not only let his party down, he let down our entire country.

I almost feel bad for Sen. John McCain, a guy I probably would have voted for in 2000. He clearly felt his campaign had to appeal to the Republican base that got the county into the mess we’re trying to dig out of today.

I’m back in Driehaus’ car now on Tuesday morning, moving to the next place we hope to find voters. It’s Price Hill Chili, the consummate West Side eatery. We just passed a truck with “Groppe,” the incumbent Hamilton County Recorder running for re-election, written in large letters on the back.

The day is still young, and many have yet to vote. I can’t wait for Wednesday to see if we accomplished what we’ve worked so hard to achieve.

No matter what, I’m glad I got back inside a political campaign again.

CONTACT JOE WESSELS: [email protected]