Dog Days of Politics

An elevator ride illustrates what Rep. John Davis and every other political candidate faces when voters aren't paying attention during the dog days of politics in August.Rep. John Davis, R-Wilsonville, rode down the elevator this week in the Portland office building where he works as a real estate attorney and encountered a business executive dressed in a suit who engaged Davis in a conversation about politics.

"When do you have to run again?" the executive asked Davis. 

"Every two years and the election is in November," the state representative politely responded.

"Oh, I'm a Republican and would like to help," the executive said. "When is the primary?" 

"Well, it was in May," Davis answered gingerly.

By then, the elevator had reached the ground floor and Davis and the executive got off and exchanged greetings. For the business executive, it was at worst an awkward moment on an elevator. For Davis, and every other political candidate, it is a way of life. 

Campaigning for office, Davis told the executive on the elevator, "never stops." Including in the dog days of August.

The part of the campaign that occurs in August is the part most people never see. It involves intense phone calling for campaign cash to pay for staff, brochures, press releases and maybe paid media. Asking for contributions is easily the toughest aspect of being a political candidate. You have to ask family members, friends, lobbyists and, often, total strangers.

August is also the time when candidates, especially at the legislative and local levels, knock on doors. These are the people who practice retail politics. They stand on front porches and talk issues with constituents. They may get a warm welcome, barked at by a vicious-looking dog or have a door slammed in their face. Once in a while, someone answers the door barely dressed — or not dressed at all. Yes, really.

For many people, August is the month of a long-awaited vacation. Even if people stay home, they try to stay off the phone and avoid anything approximating work. Answering a call from a politician or seeing one materialize on your doorstep isn't always viewed as a blessing. Even if they are indoors with the air conditioning on and the candidate is sweating profusely from walking around under a hot sun.

Political candidates, at least those who are running for the first time or face a serious challenge, don't have time for a vacation. They have calendars with a big red circle drawn around their day of destiny — election day in November. Because they have jobs, families and chores, they have to ration their time to campaign — and there is never enough time to do all things necessary to win.

There is a reason why politicos call August the dog days of politics. So if one shows up at your door or on your phone, show a little mercy. Pay attention for a few moments, offer a glass of water and let them know whether you plan to vote. Don't make the dog days even worse for a candidate by asking when the election is.