Jack Ohman

Jack Ohman: Running for office is tougher than you think

As it is campaign season in California, we’ve seen a lot of political candidates around The Bee offices. There are so many offices, and so many candidates, that it’s easy to just dismiss them as self-serving climbers intent on moving up. Some are, but mostly, they don’t seem to be.

As a political cartoonist, I am reflexively trained to analyze them and their motives, and I do so. But I also get that what they are doing is very hard work and critical to the survival of American democracy. That may sound corny, but it’s a fact. Running for elected office is incredibly stressful work.

When I was a teenager growing up in Minnesota in the 1970s, I worked as a campaign aide for several political candidates. One was a state legislator, the other a state senator who was the Democratic nominee for Congress in Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District. I met Hubert Humphrey and Fritz Mondale several times, and did advance work for Mondale when he was vice president. I never ran for anything, but I sure wanted to.

Not anymore.

When you get in at the ground level of what these people have to go through, it’s amazing anyone runs for anything at all.

The primary objective of any political candidate is to get people to like them. In your day-to-day life, it’s always nice to be liked, but imagine having to do it professionally. In order to get people to like you, it’s best if you meet them personally, and that means going door-to-door, attending gatherings and events, and generally keeping your social game face on 18 hours a day, and I mean 18 hours a day.

Lyndon Johnson once observed that if you did every single thing possible in a campaign, and he meant everything, you would win. Most candidates don’t do every single thing possible, and, in California, there are a lot of political candidates, mostly incumbents in safe districts, who don’t really have to do much but smile pleasantly and punch their ticket.

Here’s what I’ve seen candidates experience:

• Going to dark apartments and seeing people live with boxes as furniture. Boxes only.

• Learning quickly how to deal with every breed of dog and making a quick judgment about ferocity and intent.

• Handing campaign brochures to nude people, men and women.

• Walking up to people and having them call you a (insert your ethnicity or gender slur here), a liar, a crook, with every possible Anglo-Saxon rejoinder blended into the response.

• Introducing yourself as a U.S. congressional candidate and having someone complain about garbage pickup.

• Having all of your campaign brochures ripped from your hands and thrown into the air.

• Having the door slammed in your face the second they find out what your political party is.

And that’s for starters.

All candidates spend an astronomical amount of time explaining routine points of government and public policy to catastrophically uninformed and misinformed people. I’m not talking about policy positions, I am talking about simple points of how government works: legislative, executive, judicial.

When I was in my late 30s, long after my experience in politics was over, I remember going to a dinner party where everyone in attendance had a college degree and a good to excellent job. They were all friends and very responsible people. It was October of an election year where the incumbent governor was up for re-election. The campaign had been on the front page of the newspaper for a year and the political commercials had been running nonstop for months.

The host, someone who made a six-figure income working for a major multinational corporation, said, “Is (the incumbent governor) running this year?”

Now, look. This is why candidates have to ask for millions of dollars in order to advertise not only who they are but what they’re running for.

So, if you meet a candidate out there, at least be polite.

It’s hard work, even if you don’t agree with him or her.

And please be clothed.