Lauren Underwood

“Early Returns” from Election Day 2018 in Chicagoland

BY Tanner Edwards

November 9, 2018

Grisko Culture Public Affairs

On Election Day 2018, I headed to the Chicago exurbs to take part in a congressional get-out-the-vote (GOTV) effort.

I’ve posted before about my previous work as a political field organizer, and in the final stretch of Campaign 2018, I was eager to dust off my clipboard and connect with voters.

What began with a few nights of phone calls to voters eventually led to a day off at Grisko to do my part to GOTV on Election Day 2018. Along the way, I met a former governor, got hung up on multiple times and had a front-row seat to a major change in power in Congress.

Here are a few takeaways from my time on the trail:

Amidst disinformation and distrust, authenticity is in high demand.

“People are looking for something else and she really spoke to them – there’s a real sincerity about her.”

Those were the words of a supporter of the campaign I volunteered for, in an interview with WBEZ on election night.Lauren UnderwoodMore than a few residents I spoke with on the trail weren’t so much upset with a particular candidate but rather were frustrated with the general environment – acrimonious, ever-shifting and at times bewildering.

In a time where it’s hard to distinguish news from opinion and statement from fact, I have to believe the very real passion, authenticity and expertise of the candidate I volunteered for was a significant part of her upset win over a four-term incumbent congressman.

On the whole, it seems that incumbency, titles and traditional brand power matter less and less and a visceral, substantive connection matters more and more in politics and beyond in 2018.

Passion and political realignment

I had to catch myself at a few points during the candidate’s election night watch party on Tuesday evening.Lauren UnderwoodThe crowd there had the feel of something you’d see on a presidential primary night, not a congressional midterm event at the Kane County Fairgrounds.

The raucous assembly cheered throughout the evening as Democrats edged their way towards retaking the House of Representatives seat by seat. I felt that I was witnessing regional political history firsthand, on a night that would end with a Democrat winning every single congressional race in Chicagoland, part of a broader national political realignment in America’s suburbs and exurbs.

But other impressive results couldn’t be ignored – namely, a strong Republican performance in races for the Senate, where the GOP expanded its majority.

In an election that saw the highest turnout for a midterm since 1966, I think the main story of the day was striking enthusiasm and political engagement – not just to help power a “blue wave,” but to lift candidates from the polar opposite end of the spectrum to office as well.

It is clear that we are a country of drastically different visions for the future – and this week demonstrated that there is massive energy behind those worldviews.

“The things we choose to do together”

There is no doubt that we face major problems, serious fissures, and critical threats in the current political moment.

However, I think the portrait of our country as one where two sides are more sharply polarized and combative than ever is too simplistic.

As I was reminded this week over the phone and out on the doors, it’s a big, wildly diverse, and beautiful country we live in – full of many surprises, in political beliefs and political results.

Our national distress and distance is real, but so is the potential to address those issues.

That work is tough – I got a taste of it in more than a few slammed doors and angry responses while working to get out the vote. But I am certain that for all the disgust that surrounds electoral politics, it remains an imperative part of making things better on the road ahead.

For all the heat in politics, there’s a lot of hope in it too – as a way to pull us together across demographic lines to deliberate and move forward.Lauren UnderwoodI mentioned earlier that I had the chance to meet a former governor during my volunteer efforts this year. Out at a campaign office, I was able to speak with Deval Patrick, the former Governor of Massachusetts.

A classic Gov. Patrick saying is that “government is simply the name we give to the things we choose to do together.”

I’ve always been fond of it, as it articulates a vision of politics that deemphasizes the acrimony, and plays up the core potential of the endeavor to come together and solve problems.

My sense is that the country moved a little bit closer towards that ideal this week through the new, more diverse Congress it elected to represent it.

Cold weather, attack ads, door-slams and all, spending some time back on the front lines of electoral politics these past few weeks was energizing and informative.

As my colleague Bill Utter wrote, the “fun” begins anew for Chicagoans with the 2019 Mayoral Election looming. I’m looking forward to following that, and to continuing to help Grisko clients achieve their goals in a changing political landscape.


BY Tanner Edwards

November 9, 2018

Grisko Culture Public Affairs