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Susan Orlins Headshot

Confessions of a Campaign Wife

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I never prayed for Steve to win the election, only to keep our sanity intact.

With President Obama's inauguration, my thoughts turn to election night of my husband's campaign for the U. S. Congress.

1992. Family and friends stream into my husband's campaign headquarters to await returns. The mood is charged. Steve is in a close race against Republican Peter King in this conservative Long Island district. The Eyewitness News reporter says, "We're here now because our money's on Steve, but please understand if we bolt suddenly."

A few weeks before the election Steve had asked me, "Cutie, how disappointed will you be if we don't make it?"

He knew how hard I had worked. And some days he shook so many hands that his own hand bled. "I'll be disappointed for you," I answered. "But you won't lose."

Most days I worked in a corner of the living room, phoning everyone I knew to contribute or host a reception. In the final weeks I traveled the supermarket circuit, "My husband, Steve Orlins... pro-choice, pro-change."

In election morning's downpour, I offered Steve's wilted fliers to wet commuters, but most had already voted. Steve and I had taken the biggest exam of our lives, had handed in our papers and had only to wait for our grades.

Friends from Manhattan stand in clusters. "We wouldn't have missed this for anything," they say. I feel like I'm at my own wedding.

An enormous grid hangs by the entrance, soon to display the count from each electoral district. When results first arrive, the staff is exuberant. Reports start coming faster; it looks about even.

Finally, we get word from Long Beach, the one Democratic stronghold. Steve announces: "Seven thousand, seven hundred twenty-one for Orlins, three thousand, seven hundred fifty-seven for King." Cheers.

What happened? Long Beach has three Democrats for each Republican. Steve needs a better showing there. The expressions of those who understand go from hopeful to concerned. How will we catch up?

The absentee ballots -- they will put Steve over the top!

More results. Faster now. I want to find the hole I can stick my thumb in to stop the flow.

Steve calls me into his office. "We're not gonna make it, Cutie," he says, tightening his lips the way he does when contemplating something grave.

Didn't the voters believe our daughters, Eliza, Sabrina and Emily, on the radio spot they had made? "My dad's gonna make the world much more better."

Did they believe King's ads that lied and said we live in a Manhattan townhouse rather than on Long Island?

I have always wondered whether the losing candidate cries. For me, tears do not flow readily; Steve cries watching the news. But this is not something to weep about. It has been a most dazzling year.

"I have to go out and say something," Steve says, interrupting my thoughts.

He tells the crowd, "It doesn't look good for the home team, but it's not over yet. It'll be a long night..."

Our friends from Manhattan have a collective expression of "What do we say?"

The Eyewitness News reporter is now broadcasting from King headquarters, "With eighty-five per cent of the vote in, a King victory looks likely, but it's still too close to call."

For a moment, the margin narrows and I brighten.

A neighbor touches my arm and whispers, "I'm sorry."

"No one died," I say, sounding cheery and feeling sick. "We extracted every possible vote from this conservative district."

Diehards ask Steve, "When do we start the ninety-four campaign?"

"Not with this wife," I'm quick to add.

By now it's past midnight. Sabrina is asleep on a couch.

In the back of the office, I open a small refrigerator to get some milk for Emily. Champagne bottles stacked like bricks fill the shelves, reminders of a celebration that is not to be.

Finally, only staff members remain. They sit hunched over, legs apart, like the team who has just lost the Super Bowl.

I invite everyone to our home tomorrow night for a meal I promise will be neither pizza nor McDonald's. We'll wash it down with champagne. Steve praises their herculean effort and keeps the tone upbeat.

At 4 a.m., with ninety-eight per cent of the vote counted, Steve has forty-seven per cent to King's forty-nine. He picks up Sabrina and carries her to the car. She lifts her head from his shoulder and asks, "Did you win, Daddy?"

"Almost, Sweetheart," he answers.

I get into bed with the same sick feeling I get after a death or a bad haircut that things will be woefully the same when I awake.

"Now at least our lives can be normal," I say to Steve.

"Cutie," he says, "our lives will never be normal."

Thank God. If I wanted normal I would not be married to him. I'm disappointed, heartbroken for Steve, but I treasure the people we met and the experience we had. I would do it again, I think to myself before turning off the light.

Have you wondered how it feels to lose and election?

My new memoir Confessions of a Worrywart: Husbands, Lovers, Mothers, and Others is now available:

The paperback!
For Kindle!
For Nook and other e-readers!

Read an excerpt!

And visit me on my blog, Confessions of a Worrywart.