A case of nerves as election season ticks down

‘Plop, plop, fizz, fizz …” Thanks to a recent game of Charades, this 1950s advertising jingle had become stuck in my brain and as the Clinton-Trump debate approached, I kept thinking that in order to live through that television extravaganza, I might need more help than Speedy Alka-Seltzer could provide.

Maybe some anti-anxiety medications would be in order. After all, given the low bar the media had set for Donald Trump, all he needed to do in the 90-minute debate was appear semi-normal. If he did that, the media might well proclaim him the victor, which might propel him towards the presidency.

The notion that a totally unqualified, largely ignorant and extremely dangerous racist, misogynist demagogue whose head is full of half-baked – make that one-eighth baked – ideas could be elected president made me consider that an anti-depressant might need to be added to the medication mix.

As it turned out, no drugs or drink were necessary. Clinton won. Trump lost – as he would put it, and as polls attest, big time.

The next morning on my radio show on WHMP I interviewed Amanda Renteria, the Clinton campaign’s political director. Her answers to my questions about the debate came across as professional and measured, but the happiness in her voice spoke volumes.

The first debate is over but the race isn’t. Winning the first presidential debate does not necessarily augur electoral success. In 2012 Barack Obama lost the first one to Mitt Romney. Obama then, unlike Trump this year, did not commit any major gaffes, did not denigrate significant parts of the electorate, and did not reveal himself to be uninformed and misinformed.

Obama did, however, turn in an utterly uninspired performance. In response Democrats panicked (Democrats tend to do that a lot). Obama, however, recovered in the subsequent debates, and this momentarily presumed-to-be-significant setback became relegated to a footnote in the history of that campaign.

Of course, what actually matters from this year’s debate, as well as the two to come, is how they influence voting in a handful of states – Florida, North Carolina, New Hampshire and some Midwest and rust-belt ones – Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Minnesota. In these states we are talking about relatively few voters. Polls show that perhaps as few as eight and not more than 20 percent of the electorate remains undecided.

Here in Massachusetts the presidential election provides no pins and needles to sit on. Absent a hard-to-imagine nationwide tsunami for Trump, Massachusetts will vote Democratic. (The state ballot questions, in contrast, are both critically important and contested, and I’ll address them in next month’s column.)

So last Saturday, a gorgeous New England fall day, my wife, Dale, and our friend, Lucy, drove to Cheshire County, New Hampshire, to canvass for the coordinated Democratic Campaign – Clinton for President, Gov. Maggie Hassen for United States Senate, Ann Kuster for the House of Representatives and Colin Van Ostern for governor.

These races matter. Just imagine another four years of Republicans thwarting every one of President Clinton’s policy initiatives as they have with President Obama’s, often prompted by nothing more than venal motives.

Our trip to New Hampshire, where we joined many western Massachusetts neighbors and friends, showed us that the Democrats have what the politicians call a good ground game – identifying likely Democratic voters and creating an infrastructure to get them to the polls.

But the Republicans have a ground game, too, and an expensive negative television advertising campaign as well. The Koch brothers and their ilk are pouring millions of dollars into the senatorial campaign of the reliably hard-right Republican Kelly Ayotte in order to defeat Maggie Hassen and help ensure that as of January, 2017 Republicans still control Congress.

I loved the canvassing – speaking with people, having civil conversations about real issues. But my time there left me feeling some disquietude.

We saw a distressing number of Trump-Pence signs, a reminder that many aggrieved people find solace in the Republican nominee’s simplistic and jingoistic slogans. And millennials, the largest group of voters this year, have not warmed to Hillary notwithstanding Bernie Sanders’ prodigious (albeit underreported by the press) efforts to convince them of the importance of voting for her.

After the debate this week, rational people felt relieved, better, although my overriding post-debate emotion was, it’s enough already – we shouldn’t have to tolerate seven more weeks of acid indigestion, even in a milder form.

On Nov. 8, at long last, this election will be over. Let’s envision Hillary Clinton as the president-elect and Maggie Hassen as New Hampshire’s next senator.

With those thoughts in mind let’s now complete the Alka-Seltzer jingle by singing together, “Oh what a relief it is!”

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