It’s hard to explain what it’s like to be a Harkinista. Anybody who has ever worked on one of Tom’s campaigns or in one of his Senate offices becomes part of a big family. And you are part of that family for life. Once you leave you may be called back to duty down the road. And you pretty much can’t say no.
I first worked on Tom’s presidential campaign in 1991-92. It was the first of many presidential campaigns I’ve been closely involved with. It was a super exciting time, but it only lasted six months before we made poor showings in some of the early state primaries, the money dried up, and Tom dropped out of the race.During the last few days of that fight, we made a desperate final stand in Maryland, and most of our staff, whatever your job was supposed to be, ended up somewhere in Maryland doing whatever they could. Because the money was drying up, we had Xerox machines and printers loaded up with paper already printed on the back. We crashed on supporter couches. I especially remember the last day of duty when I stood on a street corner in Baltimore holding up an old tattered Harkin sign. I leaned over to tie my shoe, and my blue jeans ripped wide open right smack on the behind. The next morning we all gathered at BWI airport, where Tom announced his withdrawal from the race in front of his teary and devoted team. He promised that he would work his heart out for whichever one of his erstwhile opponents won the primary. Some weeks later, the governor of Arkansas wrapped up the nomination, and Tom made good on his promise, working tirelessly to help Bill Clinton win Iowa and the White House. Tom always worked hard for other Democrats. And you always knew it was more than just a duty. He cared passionately about politics because he card passionately about people. For 40 years he fought with everything he had to champion those in need. He fought for health care, for medical research, and for fair labor laws. He led a global fight against child labor. And as the father of the Americans with Disabilities Act he profoundly reshaped our country to make it more accessible for millions. Like so many others who were part of the team, I did additional tours of duty. I worked in the Senate office from 1994 to 1996 and spent four rough months in Iowa on a nail-biter of a reelection race in 1996. In 2001 and 2002 I shuttled back and forth constantly between Cambridge and Des Moines as we deployed VAN for the first time. And for practically two decades I was on call as a consultant, working with the campaign treasurer and my dear friend, Theresa Kehoe. When Tom took to the podium to say goodbye and thank you to 300 loyal Harkinistas on Saturday, there was hardly a dry eye in the place. It was magical to be with so many friends and so many great memories.
And then on Sunday another 10,000 Democrats gathered at the Steak Fry to say goodbye and thank you. Even that former governor from Arkansas that Tom worked so hard for. He brought his wife, too. And something tells me Tom might go to bat one more time for her.