The election of 1984 should have been hotly contested, a real down-to-the-wire face-off between two evenly matched opponents duking it out over the top issues of the day.
It was ugly.
It was messy.
It was destined to scar the fragile psyche of the loser, who was so thoroughly trounced, he might never re-enter the world of politics.
Simply put, it was the greatest landslide victory (or the most lopsided defeat, depending on your vantage point) ever seen in American politics, the effects of which are still being felt to this day.
I, for one, have yet to fully recover.
Actually, I think I’m the only one who hasn’t recovered.
No doubt, most of you are thinking of Walter Mondale, he of the 13 measly electoral votes collected in the 1984 presidential election, while his opponent, President Ronald Reagan, mopped up with 525.
I think I’m the only person who makes even Mondale look like a champ.
You see, in 1984, I squared off against James Clark for the right to be the fourth-grade president of Pam Collins’ classroom at Stanton Elementary. I didn’t actively seek the position; my dear friend, Sarah King, nominated me for the spot. Now that I think about it, perhaps “dear friend” might not be an apt description for her.
For about a week, James and I campaigned furiously in the classroom, brashly making outlandish promises we had no way of ever fulfilling: “less homework, more ice cream;” “University of Kentucky basketball superstars Sam Bowie and Melvin Turpin will visit our classroom at least once a week;” and “We promise to get Mrs. Collins fired.”
I felt good about my chances. Everyone knew me (but then, it was a classroom of 28 kids, so everyone knew James, too), and everyone liked me.
Or so I thought.
Election Day rolled around, and students headed to the polls. By that, I mean Mrs. Collins asked us to put our heads down, making sure to keep our eyes covered. She then asked those who wanted to elect James to raise their hands, followed by the same request for those supporting me.
She tallied the votes, made a few notes and instructed us to return to our normal, upright positions. Excitement filled the room, with each of these 9- and 10-year-olds anxious to know who would be representing them, or maybe everyone was ready for recess and another round of “steal the bacon” and/or kickball.
Mrs. Collins asked James and me to join her in the hallway, and I began practicing my victory speech in my head.
She gathered us close together in the hallway, pulling the door shut to give us some privacy. I was sure she didn’t want the 26 other students to have to watch James cry.
“I’m going to give you the results, but you have to promise never to tell anyone what they are,” she told us.
Sure, sure. Just tell us who won.
She showed us her notebook.
Either a) her college education properly failed to teach her how to adequately soften the pending humiliation of a child; b) the final count struck her dumb, rendering her completely unable to tactfully express the tally; or c) she wanted to avoid any and all liability in ruining a child’s life. No matter the reason, a few pen strokes in a notebook made fully clear what she could not:
James Clark, 27. Kevin Hall, 1.
Although it hurts to admit it, in the interest of truthfulness, I should probably point out here that I had a running mate.
And I still finished with one vote.
Another person, the aforementioned Miss King, nominated me.
And I still finished with one vote.
At one point, I considered not voting for myself, thinking that it would be egotistical and that taking the moral high road would benefit me later in life.
I’m glad I changed my mind.
So, to all of the candidates seeking the many offices open in Scott County and Georgetown, understand that somebody has to finish last. Yes, your feelings will be hurt. And unlike Mrs. Collins, I won’t promise never to tell anyone. In fact, it will be printed in our paper and online for all the world to see.
Just don’t take it personally. Laugh a little. Learn a lot. Come back next time ready to make the changes to get more votes.
After all, the following year, Sarah King again nominated me for the fifth-grade presidency, and I, being a glutton for punishment, accepted. This time, however, I won.
James Clark must have been absent that day.