It’s a popular vote, not a popularity contest

On a crisp October morning in 2012, I knocked on the door of a handsome two-decker tucked away in an alley just off Maverick Square in East Boston.

Standing on the front step wearing a lapel stick and holding a clipboard with a stack of campaign literature, it was immediately clear to the home’s occupant why I was there. She looked me up and down, and without waiting for my pitch, she launched into a diatribe.

“I. Hate. Her,” she said, pointing to the Elizabeth Warren bumper sticker affixed to the bottom of the clipboard I was holding.

“Every time her commercials come on, I mute the TV because I can’t stand her voice,” she said, face reddened, finger now wagging in my face. “She drives me crazy.”

By the time the monologue ended, I took a breath to summon the courage to continue with my script.

“So, have you thought about who you might vote for in the U.S. Senate race next month,” I asked while taking a step back.

“Oh, I’m going to vote for her,” she told me.

With the constant stream of silliness churned out by navel-gazing pundits cackling about the daily ups and downs of the campaign trail, it’s easy to forget that most voters take their responsibility to make informed choices very seriously. And the closer we get to Election Day, the more the average voter tunes out the noise to focus on things that really matter.

That’s a lesson Donald Trump and his Republican Party should take to heart. They may be able to convince folks to not like Hillary Clinton, but that’s not the same as convincing them to not vote for her.

Maybe Clinton coughs too much, smiles too little and parses her words too carefully. Donald Trump does not have a plan to fight ISIS. Which issue is an informed voter going to take more seriously?

After an impassioned drubbing of Warren’s voice, haircut, dress sense and general demeanor, the woman whom I rudely distracted from Saturday chores four years ago gave me an eloquent and thorough comparison of Warren and Scott Brown on the issues she cared most about. She did not want to have a beer with Warren, but she knew which of the candidates would best represent her values in Washington.

The simple fact is that people rarely vote for a candidate they don’t dislike a little.

As we head down the home stretch on this year’s presidential contest, the chattering classes may not have realized that silly season is over, but voters are sobering up.

The temperament, knowledge and judgment of the candidates matters now more than nonsense conspiracy theories and name-calling. Even if the breathless cable news hosts have not figured it out, the American people know this election is not a reality television show.


Originally published at www.bostonherald.com on September 13, 2016.