It was my very first U.S. Senate campaign. There were only three months left before the Democratic primary, and I had decided to drop out of the race.
From the start, the media and the political establishments had written me off. My friend Dianne Feinstein was running for the other open U.S. Senate seat, and the pundits insisted that California would never elect two women, let alone two Jewish women from the Bay Area. As a member of Congress from Marin, I was the clear underdog in a crowded Democratic field. One of my opponents was the lieutenant governor and had statewide name recognition. My other opponent had a huge campaign war chest.
My fundraising was down, my poll numbers were down, and quite frankly, I was down.
I remember driving up to Sacramento to give a series of speeches about my plans to create jobs, preserve the environment, improve education and protect women’s health. But after each speech, I was surrounded by reporters who only wanted to ask about my opponent’s latest attack or why I wasn’t raising more money. They even went so far as to ask how I possibly thought I could win.
I’d had enough. I was exhausted. I had been taking red-eye flights between D.C. and California so I wouldn’t miss votes in the House. I felt like if I had to ask one more person for a campaign contribution I would choke. So on the way home from Sacramento that day, I called my husband, Stew, to tell him the news: I was dropping out of the race.
I expected him to be delighted. We both wanted to spend more time together and wanted our lives to go back to normal. Instead he said, “Let’s talk about it when you get home.” When I arrived home, I found our two grown kids waiting for me in the living room. My son, Doug, handed me a Dr. Seuss book about the ups-and-downs of life called Oh, The Places You’ll Go! All those years, I had read Dr. Seuss to my kids. Now they were quoting him back to me.
Then my daughter Nicole started to speak. “Mom, this election isn’t about you. There’s no way you can drop out. What will that tell the world about women? That we can’t take the heat? That we let the polls and the press push us out?” Nicole insisted that I would win because people would know that I was fighting for them and their kids – but that I had to start by fighting for myself. Doug nodded in agreement. “It’s only 90 days ‘til the primary,” he said. “Just give it all you have and see what happens. You can’t quit.”
I was stunned – but I knew they were right. Women were counting on me to be tough, and my toughness would give them strength. I knew that their battles – single mothers raising kids without child support, working women barely getting by, gutsy survivors of breast cancer and abusive relationships – made mine seem like a birthday party.
I stayed in. I won. And I won the next three elections after that.
The fact is, the pundits have counted me out in almost every election I’ve run. But I have never considered quitting again. I would have never become a United States Senator without the support of my family, friends and the millions of Californians who have entrusted me to fight for them. And I would have never become a United States Senator without the life lesson my own kids taught me more than 20 years ago.
Oh, The Places You’ll Go!