End of the campaign trail, start of an Eagle County term
EAGLE, Colorado ” Jon Stavney won his bid to become an Eagle County Commissioner Tuesday night.
But this story isn’t about winning or losing. It’s about what it’s like to be the candidate on Election Day. What runs through your mind when your name is on the ballot?
For Stavney, like his opponent Debbie Buckley, Tuesday marked the end of a nine-month journey filled with hundreds of handshakes, a plethora of personal appearances, loads of letter-writing and inestimable number of interviews. It all ended Tuesday, a single day marked in red, white and blue on the calendar.
7:23 a.m. ” Eby Creek Roundabout, Eagle
It’s an early morning for Stavney. He places himself in the Eagle roundabout, totes his campaign sign and starts waving at passing motorists.
“This is more fun than you might think,” Stavney says, “I love this community. I get a lot of smiles and waves.”
Stavney says it was a conscious decision to start his Election Day schedule in his home community. He figures beginning the day in Eagle will help center him for the hours ahead. He muses about the practical reality that, for all intents and purposes, the election may have already been decided.
“It’s been interesting with the early voting turnout. It’s reset the focus points of the campaign. The point was to peak about a week ago.”
During this early morning drive time, Stavney is the only person in the Eagle roundabout. Earlier this week, he participated in a Democratic event at Roaring Fork Valley bus stops. About 12 people were waving his signs.
“But I am getting a little sick of seeing my name everywhere,” he adds.
Fellow Democrat Pete Runyon drives by, honking his horn and waving. Stavney says Runyon’s Election Day strategy is to make sure his yard signs are up outside polling places.
“I did that late last night,” Stavney said.
He admits to late-night hours at his Eagle home during the past couple of weeks. He compulsively checks the Internet and talks with supporters until around 1 a.m.
Throughout his campaign, he’s also worked his full-time job as a construction project manager for Beck Builds. This week, however, he’s taking some time off. Despite the obvious sleep deprivation issues, Stavney says he feels good.
“I’ve been cautiously confident for a few days now,” he said. “Maybe that’s just because so many people smile and wave at me.”
10:35 a.m. ” Red Canyon High School
It’s Election Day and Tom Gladitsch’s government class students at Red Canyon High School have spent the past nine weeks in a living laboratory. They’ve studied the America election model, visited campaign headquarters, talked with local candidates and showed up for the Todd Palin Eagle visit. They are well prepared to meet with commissioner candidate Stavney.
The students note they filled out sample ballots earlier this week. One class member says she will be headed out to the polls at the conclusion of class. Nine of their classmates are serving as student election judges at polls across the county.
“This election is going to go down in history, and it’s the first one where I get to vote,” says student Beth Hall. “People are taking it a lot more seriously.”
“I was walking though Walmart yesterday and it was crazy,” says student Jaime Beardsley.
She talks about racist comments she heard from folks in the aisles.
On the local level, the students readily rattle off the names of candidates they’ve met. Al White gave out his phone number to class members. “He answers every time I call him,” notes Hall.
The students talk about pine beetles, monorail proposals and toll booths in Vail. They discuss affordable housing needs and quality of life concerns and speak with pride about their community.
“I think this valley votes so much because the people who come here really want to live here,” says student Angela Lujan.
When given the opportunity to question Stavney, the students ask if his wife is voting for him and if the campaign has caused stress at home.
“My kids (Holden, 8, and Margaux, 6) and my wife, Mary Ann, are all excited and they are happy it’s almost over,” he says. “For the last couple of months, I haven’t been as focused on my family as I would like to be.”
Before he leaves the classroom, the students insist that Stavney ask their Magic 8 ball if he will win Tuesday night. The ball’s prediction: “As I see it, yes.”
“I’ll take the Magic 8 Ball answer,” Stavney says.
12:15 p.m. ” Broadway Bar and Grill
Lunchtime finds Stavney feeling reflective. After months of campaigning, he says it’s hard to know exactly what to do on Election Day.
“I’ve actually felt at loose ends for a while now,” says Stavney. “This morning, Mary Ann and I took some pictures, for posterity, outside the county building. But I think it’s a bit weird to just hang out at polling places all day long.”
He talks about the comments from the Red Canyon students, highlighting their questions about his campaign’s influence on his family.
“I’ve thought at length about what an interesting life lesson it will be for my kids if I lose,” he says.
As the day wears on, Stavney says he’s getting steadily more excited. That’s a good thing, since he’s also getting steadily more tired.
“I hit a point this morning when my smile muscles actually started to hurt,” he says.
For the next eight to 10 hours, Stavney is playing a waiting game. There’s no poll results to show how the District 2 Eagle County Commission race is trending. All the candidates have to go on is their gut feelings, and in Stavney’s case, an increasingly blue-state atmosphere.
While he acknowledges 2008 is a good year to be running as a Democrat, he doesn’t think party politics has a strong sway in local races.
“People are pretty independently minded here in Eagle County,” he says.
As he waits for the final moments of the campaign to click away, Stavney reflects on its high points and low points. He says the high point happened in September when he took a week off work and started knocking on doors.
“I was walking around Minturn and the colors were just beautiful,” he says. “I was thinking about how this is a great way to interview for a job.”
Ironically, Stavney attributes some of his low points to comments from supporters. He talks about times when fellow Dems told him he wasn’t doing enough. Criticism from supporters is difficult to take, he notes.
“Now, if I lose by 50 votes, I’m going to have lots of questions for myself,” he says.
3:51 p.m. – En route to Vail
Stavney feels like a new man. After lunch, he took an hour-long nap.
“I really need it. It could be a really late night.”
He plans to hit Donovan Park around 5 p.m. to wave at voters. He’s taking a leisurely trip upvalley, stopping for a quick newspaper interview along the way. He also plans to pop by KZYR to see if he can get on the air for a last-minute vote push.
As the afternoon has worn on, the butterflies have arrived.
“I was driving through Wolcott and it really hit me that I could lose this thing,” he says.
6:03 p.m. ” Donovan Pavilion, Vail
Stavney waves at people until it gets dark and spends his time talking with Dick Gustafson. Gustafson is also seeking an Eagle County commissioner seat, but from District 1 in the eastern part of the county.
“Dick told me he won by 65 votes the first time he ran. He actually thought he’d lost until the ballots from Basalt were counted,” says Stavney. “We kept talking about how you never know. The last three people you talk to may be the ones who get you elected.”
Stavney can’t help but wonder why people have waited until the final hour of Election Day to come to the polls.
“It’s the most important election of my lifetime. Who are these people who haven’t voted until 6 p.m.?” he asks.
Fatigue has set in. Stavney says he’s ready for the race to end. He’s tired of standing outside and tired of placing yard signs. He’s actually looking forward to removing his signs, but notes it won’t happen until at least tomorrow.
“I can’t wait to find out the results at this point,” he says.
8:10 p.m. ” Fiesta’s Restaurant, Edwards
Eagle County Democrats have gathered at the Edwards eatery to watch results. The crowd cheers as CNN projects Obama victories throughout the nation.
Stavney gets his first results report. With 6,700 votes cast, he’s up by 771 votes.
“I’m really happy to be up by 700 votes, but it’s a long night ahead,” he says.
A passerby stops Stavney to tell him about how the yard signs she placed mysteriously vanished a couple of days ago.
“I am so sick of the sign war,” he says. “Of all the things about the campaign, that’s what I’m happiest to have over.”
8:45 p.m. ” Fiesta’s
The crowd around the televisions keeps growing, and so does Stavney’s lead. He’s now up by 845 votes with 9,246 votes counted.
“Congratulations, Jon,” yells a woman from across the room.
“Thanks, but its a bit early still,” Stavney says.
The room erupts when CNN makes the announcement that Obama is the projected winner.
9:20 p.m. ” Fiesta’s
The crowded restaurant is pin-drop quiet for John McCain’s concession speech. “That was the best speech of his whole campaign,” says an observer.
10:18 p.m. ” Fiesta’s
Silence again overtakes the standing-room-only crowd as President-elect Barack Obama takes the stage in Chicago.
Locals sound off with the Chicago crowd as they cheer “Yes, we can.”
Shortly after Obama’s speech, local Dems share hugs and blue shots and gradually dwindle away. Around 11 p.m. Stavney learns the latest results. With 16,256 votes cast, he’s ahead by 1,004 votes.
2 a.m., Nov. 5 ” Eagle County Building
Once the crowd left Fiesta’s, Stavney headed over to the Eagle County Building in hopes of getting the final results. He gives up when the clock hits 2 a.m. and there’s still a sizeable pile of paper ballots waiting to be counted.
“I tried to stay up. I pulled signs and hung out,” says Stavney. On his way home, he spots an owl perched on a town of Eagle sign. He downloads the image and e-mails it out to friends under the title “Election omen?”
5:30 a.m., Nov. 5 ” Stavney home in Eagle
Harvie Branscomb of the Eagle County Democrats delivers the official phone call. Stavney won the commissioner race with 10,390 votes to Buckley’s 9,173.
Eagle County saw a 90 percent voter turnout on Election Day with 21,565 of the 23,855 registered voters casting ballots.
When pressed, Stavney insists he never had an ‘it’s in the bag moment’ until the early morning call.
“I hated the idea of letting myself think I had won if I hadn’t,” he says.
His plans for Wednesday include calling Buckley to thank her for running an honorable race and talking with friends and supporters. He also wants to start planning for his transition from full-time work with Beck Builds to full-time work as an Eagle County commissioner.
“Now the job begins,” he says.