Campaigning for the "Big One"
by Karen Bries
Here’s what Tom Downey’s diary might have looked like for the three-and-a-half months he spent as the state director of the Gore/Lieberman Colorado presidential campaign:
Arrived at work at 7 a.m. Drafted issue pieces to headquarters in Nashville about what was happening in the campaign.
9 a.m. Conference call with headquarters in Nashville. Will Vice President Gore come to Colorado to campaign? No, but Senator Leiberman will next month. Must get logistics ready.
10 a.m. Daily staff meeting. Went through everyone’s schedule that day to find out how many speakers will campaign and where. Attorney General Ken Salazar and Mayor Wellington Webb, co-state Democratic Chairman, and others will meet with civic groups and campaign for Gore.
11:30 a.m. Answered one of many media calls throughout the day. Had to comment on subliminal messages.
12:30 p.m. Lunch meeting with state volunteer coordinator. Returned voice mail and e-mail messages.
1:45 p.m. Called to check in with Nashville for daily afternoon conference call.
3:00 p.m. Recharged cell phone.
3:30 p.m. Checked in with state party headquarters.
4:15 p.m. Met with Salazar and Webb to plan for next month’s Leiberman visit.
5:15 p.m. Talked to coordinator of Gore look-alike contest with celebrity judges. The national and local media had been contacted.
6:00 p.m. Returned voice mail and e-mail messages.
7:00 p.m. Drafted more proposals.
8:00 p.m. Went home. Heard taped voicemail message from Gov. Owens asking for Bush vote on Nov. 7. Saved it. Fun to replay and laugh at during parties.
Downey, 35, took a leave of office from his regular job as Colorado assistant attorney general in the Business and Licensing Section to command Colorado’s campaign efforts for Gore and Leiberman. He is also the chair of the DBA Membership Services Committee.
One of the hardest parts of his job was when he was first appointed state director. He had to make sure there was a bold line between his career in the AG’s office and being the campaign’s state director, so as not to mix the state’s interests with his own.
He could not take phone calls, read his e-mails or even meet with Attorney General Ken Salazar who sits two offices away from Downey.
For the campaign, he set up a temporary office in his home.
"Then I got 35 to 50 voicemails an hour," he said. You can’t even listen to that many messages in an hour, let alone call people back."
Another hard aspect of his job was dealing with local political supporters. "Everyone wanted to do the ‘airport greet,’ which is when a group of supporters waited for Senator Lieberman to get off the plane and shake his hand. There are only so many who can fit. And everyone wanted Kristin Gore at their banquet table."
After all of the planning and hard work, there was still Nov. 7 to deal with. And what was Downey doing that infamous night?
He had seen the television exit polls when they declared Gore the winner in Florida.
"I’m a geek about the electoral college. We were on the phone to the airline ready to make reservations for the inauguration festivities," he said. "And then, utter devastation."
He didn’t sleep. He was on the phone with Attorney General Ken Salazar. They talked every two hours.
The bright side of the loss, Downey said, "is that the system worked."
"Not to sound schmaltzy, but this was the greatest Constitutional crisis since the Civil War. But there were no tanks in the streets and no lines for food. On Jan. 20, there was a peaceful transition."
Downey says he wished the public could have seen Gore in the way he knows him.
"Someone came up to me after he had heard Gore’s concession speech, and said he had no idea that this was the same man that had been in the news all these months."
Now that the excitement has waned, Downey is happy to continue his role as assistant attorney general.
He will move on to an even more exciting part of his life, when his wife Lori Fox, also a long-time political figure, gives birth to a baby girl. Baby Downey is due on May 9, the day the legislative session is over.
"I told the political party to use me as much as they could before our baby gets here," he said, "because things will change after she’s born."
Would he do it all over again? He said, "Absolutely. The system only works when people are involved."
"It’s different than being a litigator, where you have to follow rules. A campaign is amorphous. In ways it’s more fun and more frustrating, because there’s no dealing with judges. I prefer dealing with judges, because they make decisions and follow procedures."