Opinion by Matthew Dowd, ABC News Political Contributor
Happy New Years to you, and my wish is that 2008 brings you the first steps toward your dreams you have always held in your heart, and that you take a shot at what you desire and deserve in life starting today.
It’s less than 48 hours until the Iowa caucus begins and a week until the New Hampshire primary, so I thought I would take a moment to give you some sense of what the candidates and staffs might be feeling right now. (Having been there in my previous life).
Campaigns really are a lot like life: with emotional ups and downs throughout each day and week and month. And the ride one gets on in a campaign is as intense and draining and questioning as any experience a person has in their life – thrilling and sad, peaks and valleys, coasting and climbs.
One thing happening is candidates and campaigns are operating on adrenalin and very little sleep especially in the aftermath of a last celebration at New Year’s Eve.
Folks are probably hyped up on a combination of excited anticipation and loads of coffee or tea or diet cokes or maybe even Red Bulls. (This is a time when mistakes have a tendency to get made since exhaustion and weariness has set in, and probably a bit of testiness.)
Each person is asking themselves the question of did we do enough?
Should we have done another event? Did we do too many events? Should we have ended the campaign on a positive note (or should we have ended it negatively)?
Did we spend too much time or money in Iowa? In New Hampshire? Did we spend too little? What about our needs for later primaries?
Do we believe the latest poll numbers showing us behind because the crowds seem large and enthusiastic? (Go ahead and be an optimist — what’s there to lose at this point?)
Should we believe the poll numbers showing us ahead? Maybe we have actually fallen behind, and, oh my God, if we lose then my career is over and I signed a long-term apartment lease!!! (Your career ain’t over, it just might be on a different path.)
And as an aside, I learned more from my losses than any victories along the way — about life and politics.
It’s snowing in western Iowa, is that going to help my campaign? Hurt it? The roads are icy in Manchester, NH, who will come vote? Will my supporters show up at the caucus/primary? (They promised, but it’s cold and they may have been just being nice.)
What kinds of tricks does my opponent plan on election day? (Tricks defined broadly encompassing a last minute negative mail piece or a series of phone calls or a negative radio spot or crazy election day rallies, whatever.)
Question after question after question the candidates and campaign staff ask themselves. Trying to stay on plan and upbeat, but in a spiral of worry and concern and self-examination.
My advice for all those involved in the campaign and for those observing the campaigns is that you should sit quietly, breathe deeply, reflect on 2007 and all that you did and learned (good and bad), and then let it go.
Because the 2008 Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary are here, and at this point your destiny is pretty much out of your hands.
Enjoy the moment as best you can because you may never be given this opportunity again –- soak it in, and don’t beat yourself up when it’s over. And have no regrets!
You did the best you could, and you did it for the right reason regardless of which candidate you worked for!
Hold your head high and show the world what your made of no matter the results coming in, and give life a big grin as you walk your way till the next step. You already won since you followed your heart and took a chance on a risky path.