Two years ago I stood for election to public office for the first time. It was a special election for what would normally have been a “down-ballot” position. Since it was the only race on the ballot turnout was very low. Although I put up a pretty good fight, I still got beat pretty handily.
Although I was quite disappointed, my gloom dissipated quite rapidly. On election day an attorney friend had asked me to cover for her in court the next morning. I didn’t have the heart to say “no.” So after losing on Tuesday, I got up on Wednesday, put my suit on, drove forty-five miles to court, and never looked back in regret.
President Nixon, years after he had left the White House (in disgrace, no less), wrote that there is an iron rule in politics: Winners will always think that they did it by themselves, but losers will always remember the people who backed them.
Obviously, I will never know how much (or how little) I would have appreciated my supporters if I had won. But I sure do know how much I appreciated them then – and how much I still appreciate them now.
One supporter stands out. Early on election day, I was standing next to a busy street holding my sign when she honked her horn and started waiving. Then she parked her car in the nearby Dollar General, walked about 100 to 150 yards across an open field, and asked if she could hold my sign for me. I had never met this woman in my life. Yet for two hours — in the bitter cold, no less — she held my sign. In fact, when I drove back by her, I thought I saw her dancing.
Of course, I had other supporters, from all walks of life. A former candidate for President of the United States did a radio ad for me. A former justice on the Mississippi Supreme Court donated to my campaign — as did my best friends from college and law school, respectively. My local friends and my extended family also helped by donating their time and money. And I had a really good campaign manager, too!
However, the support of this poverty-stricken rank stranger, who held my sign in the bitter cold for absolutely nothing in return, was as appreciated as any other contribution I received because I knew — I really knew — that this was truly a gift from God.
In the final analysis, it is good for aspiring leaders to lose elections from time to time. Politicians who enjoy unbroken chains of success can easily believe that they are entitled to their jobs, that their jobs literally belong to them just as any brick-and-mortar business might. When this happens they can lose touch with the people they have been called to represent, causing dysfunction in government in the process.
If you are a candidate who lost tonight, you are probably hurting quite a bit right now. And you should.
But in an a few years you will look back with a greater appreciation for the people who struggled with you.
You will remember the unexpected acts of kindness and words of encouragement from people you never knew existed.
You will remember the friends who made you get up, go to work, and leave the past behind.
And this will make you a better candidate — and dare I say, a better leader — the next time you run again.