By Wednesday evening, campaigning is taking its toll.
“I’ve only had 40 minutes of naps since 6 a.m. yesterday,” says vice presidential candidate Tommy Smithburg.
But for the Weinberg junior, tired does not mean defeated.
“We’re feeling strong,” Smithburg says. “We’ve got a lot of support on campus.”
“I’m sure it’s a very close race though. Nothing’s sealed and nothing’s in the bag.”
Flyers, “5-Hour Energy” bottles, a box of sidewalk chalk and a cardboard reservoir of Hershey’s Kisses litter the table of the Public Affairs Residential College seminar room, where Smithburg sits alone. He and presidential candidate Mike McGee use the area as headquarters. The white board is covered in slogans; a list of bullet points answers the dry-erase question, “Why us?”
Meanwhile, presidential candidate Bill Pulte walks at a formidable clip across the grassy area outside Bobb-McCulloch. After a panic in the late afternoon, Pulte learns that the ASG election Web site — which went down for nearly two hours starting at about 4:45 p.m. — is back up and the polls will now stay open until 9 p.m., giving each campaign an extra two hours. Pulte stayed awake until 7:30 the previous morning chalking, but pledges to go “all out” until polls close.
A campaigner outside Bobb tells him that he has large support in the dorm, and recommends going elsewhere. “I’m worried about a run-off,” Pulte says. He has been campaigning for two months and is ready to be finished with the process.
At 6:35 p.m., McGee arrives at PARC. McGee and Smithburg call some of their campaigners to figure out where they should go dorm-storming that evening. By 7:10 p.m., McGee decides to hand out quarter sheets at the Arch.
“Have you voted? Have you voted?,” he asks to passers-by, jumping from one foot to the other to keep warm, trying to guess who they had voted for based on the way they smiled at him. Waving a flyer, he runs after a squirrel.
“He must have voted Pulte,” he jokes. “I didn’t pan enough to the squirrel community.”
Half an hour later, McGee heads to 1835 Hinman to help Smithburg and campaign member Sheena Agarwal go door-to-door. When Hinman residents tell him that they’ve already voted, Smithburg replies, “There might be a run-off on Friday,” and asks for their continued support.
At about 7:15, Pulte walks quickly to a charity basketball game held by Sigma Alpha Epsilon on the courts behind Bobb and casually greets a number of supporters. He seems comfortable selling his candidacy to groups sitting on the sideline. “Forty more votes and I win,” he announces. “And we get a Greek in motherfuckin’ office.” He receives a call on his Blackberry and picks up the pace, practically jogging to Ayers College of Commerce and Industry, his next destination.
In the lobby of Ayers CCI, a student lies on a couch with a laptop on the table next to him. A girl helping Pulte make his rounds in the dorm calls to the student on the couch. Pulte approaches to make his pitch. After getting his name, Pulte asks, “Is this your laptop?” He tells the student he’ll be right back, adding, “Just log onto NULink, and on the right hand side it says ‘vote now.’” The student is responsive and Pulte continues upstairs to seek more votes.
At 8:15 p.m. Pulte is making his way through the second floor of the International Studies Residential College. A girl sitting in the lounge directs him towards the door of residents she knows are home. Pulte knocks and enters the room of Weinberg freshman Peter Skopec. They talk for a couple minutes — Pulte “told me he was about 15 votes behind and that he would like my vote,” and that he “can be one of the 15 that makes a difference,” Skopec would say later.
As polls close, about 25 students, including student life director candidate Matthew Bellassai, are packed in the PARC seminar room, many of them wearing “Mike and Tommy” stickers on their shirts. The wait has begun. McGee passes time by playing Text Twist, while Smithburg’s nervousness is a little more apparent.
“You look like you’re about to puke,” someone jokingly tells him. Former ASG Treasurer Claire Lew starts massaging his back as Smithburg twiddles with his phone, his left foot twitching rapidly.
“I feel really good, just because we’ve reached a point where there’s nothing more we could have done,” Lew says. Yet she adds: “My stomach’s an absolute knot.”
With as many as 16 companions at his side, Pulte waits in the small living room that adjoins his bedroom in Pi Kappa Alpha for a call from the ASG election commission. The room is so crowded that Pulte’s running mate Pat Dawson has found a spot on the floor. Visible on the far wall of Pulte’s office are aerial pictures he has taken for his business as a helicopter photographer. A giant American flag covers the entire wall behind the bed in his adjacent bedroom. Pulte expects to receive the call a few minutes after 9 p.m. Phones — Pulte’s Blackberry in particular — buzz constantly.
The campaigners try to reconcile their fatigue, excitement and anxiety. “I was just in game mode, I didn’t even know what I was saying,” Pulte says of his final round of campaigning. Volunteers make a few frantic calls in the minutes before nine. The polls finally close and now every call that comes in elicits a nervous response from the growing crowd in the room. “No, we don’t have results,” Pulte says to a caller. “But we mean results,” someone interjects.
The consensus is that they have at least forced a run-off. “It’s not a loss,” says SESP freshman Mike Markese. But despite being anxious, Pulte says he finally has a “few minutes to sit back and think about things.” He shakes hands with and thanks his campaign volunteers as they shuffle in and out. “It’s not even about me,” Pulte reflects. “Everyone just has a vested interest.”
Pulte answers his phone excitedly. “Hello?” The room falls silent. “Just kidding.”
Back at PARC, Smithburg’s cell phone starts ringing at 9:30 p.m. Smithburg looks up from his phone; the only thing he’ll announce is that his Domino’s delivery has arrived. Bellassai looks at his phone at 10 p.m. when he notices that he has a voicemail from Election Commissioner Paul David Shrader. People shush as he calls Shrader back.
“Okay … 80.6 percent of the vote!” Bellassai says, as the room erupts in cheers.
“I’m excited. That number, it’s not what I was expecting,” the Weinberg freshman said. “I prepared myself for less.”
In Pi Kappa Alpha, Pulte calls to the other side of the room to check on Dawson. “I’m tired, excited,” Dawson replies. “I should probably start going to class now.” Ringtones and buzzers have now become annoyances, and someone comments about the ants crawling in the trash can. Muhammad Safdari, the new ASG academic director, and Bellassai post their victories on Facebook — a sign that Pulte’s election commission call is imminent.
At about 10:05, McGee’s phone rings. McGee’s acquiescing noises are the only sounds in the room.
He hung up. “Okay,” McGee told the crowd, “so there was a record number of votes, 4400. I received 47 percent, and [Pulte] received 48, so it’s a run-off.” The news is received with a mix of applause and “oohs” of surprise.
“I definitely wanted to close the deal tonight, go home, start getting ready for a new administration, catch up on homework that I haven’t done yet this quarter,” Smithburg says. “But two more full days of work, that’s exciting.”
“We wish it’d been over tonight, but it’s not, so we got to keep going,” McGee adds.
At 10:06, Pulte snaps his Blackberry to his ear and answers with a serious tone: “Hey, what’s up,” he says.
After a few solemn nods, he asks, “So, it’s a run-off?” A few of his friends exhale. Pulte announces his number — 48.6 percent — but says he doesn’t remember McGee’s share of the vote. Almost immediately, Will Upton, one of Pulte’s closest confidantes, is on the phone with Luke Adams, asking for an endorsement.
Pulte, meanwhile, is already out of his seat and pacing. “Back to work,” he says.
Alex Campbell and Lisa Gartner contributed reporting.