As a candidate for the Pennsylvania legislature many years ago, one campaign appearance stands out above the rest.
I knocked on thousands of doors, talking to voters and asking for their support. One afternoon I trudged along house-to-house in the Fifth Ward of Glassport Borough. It was a depressed town, and many residents left after the steel mills closed in the late 1970s.
Glassport is a multi-ethnic town and residents had come to know hardship well. The neighborhoods were a series of clapboard row houses, one after another, which made it easy to campaign house-to-house.
Knocking on the door of one home, a single mother answered with a baby girl in her arms. I introduced myself and began to give her my campaign pitch which usually ended with me asking for a vote in the election.
The woman was very polite but she stood in silence and an awkward moment passed. I changed the subject and ask about her daughter; I wondered how old she was, and asked about her well-being. The little girl seemed happy to be in her mother’s arms.
The mother explained the serious medical problems her little daughter had faced since birth. Her baby was now one-year-old even though doctors told the mother that her child would not live to see her first birthday.
Looking at the two of them, and taking all this in, I stopped talking about my political campaign. We sat on the porch and talked about her daughter and about the future. The little girl had no idea what she was going through nor did she understand the prognosis of her life. She was happy and content to be in her mother’s arms.
Our conversation finished, and I walked on to seek votes at the next house. I was not only a different candidate but a different person. Running for office seemed less important, and it was humbling to find that the election mattered much less to this mother and child.
Campaigning door-to-door gives one a glimpse into how people are living. There are many things that matter outside the world of politics; things that are more important to voters than politics, and accepting this helps one connect.
While I continued to campaign as hard as before, this one experience gave me a unique understannding at what motivates voters, and why they vote the way they do, or whether they will vote at all.
The encounter with this little girl made me a better candidate, she actually made me a great candidate. I learned what was important and what was not, and that in politics and among voters, less is always more.
As my career took various turns, including working with members of Congress, media personalities, captains of industry, frequent trips in and out of the White House, and meetings with more than one President of the United States, none of these experiences moved me as much as this mother and child from Glassport, Pennsylvania.
I do not know what kind of life, or how long a life, this little girl was ultimately given. Not many days have gone by when she did not cross my mind, along with the hope that her life was long and that she defied the prognosis that had been given to her.
I also wish she had lived to know the impact she had made on the career of a young man who came knocking on her mother’s door looking for a vote – and who left with much more.