“WINNING IS EVERYTHING!” Buddy cried out.
About thirty-five men and two women tried to raise their right arms in imitation of Buddy and tried to raise their voices in imitation of Buddy but it was a weak echo. The contingent of downstate candidates out of the primary were gathered for their first pep rally with Governor Powell Paulie. The governor would be arriving “soon” they had been told twice and were starting to grasp that they themselves were the warm-up act.
Few Downstate Democrats had faced contested primaries so hadn’t actually won anything yet. They were still new to the silly things that accompanied one-on-one campaigning or slate-building on behalf of the Party. This hollering and jumping up and down in an Elk Lodge was embarrassing, seemed juvenile to them. They still expecting gravitas and strategic conversations about policies and issues. They were to be disabused of that today. That was the purpose of today, to turn them into candidates running below the governor’s ticket.
“We got to all get on the same page,” Buddy Nowak told them. “We gotta get on the governor’s wagon and we all gotta push. We gotta push to the win. Let’s hear it.”
“Winning Is Everything,” cried Bill Wolf. He believed it. He was a winner. Harrison had been gracious in conceding but had made no effort to throw his party support to Wolf. Instead it appeared his people were moving into Johnson's camp. Harrison had been seen politically only once since the primary, at a Paulie fundraiser. Wolf had seen him deep in conversation with Buddy and hoped Harrison was being encouraged to bring the Harrison County Democrats out for him in November.
Bill Wolf looked to the men on either side of him. They stood with their right fists clenched but not raised and said the words looking at the floor. “Winning IS everything,” Bill suddenly cried out again and the men to his sides slightly jumped and then turned and smiled at him. Bill reached out and patted both men on their backs.
“WINNING IS EVERYTHING,” Buddy called back. And now Bill, the men on either side of him and the men next to them cheered louder than before.
“BILL WOLF – WINNER IN HADEN COUNTY,” Buddy called back. A cheer went up in the room and Bill grinned and raised his arms into the air.
He was on his way. He could feel it. The room was electric. He was electric. Electric and alive. He had won a grueling race. He was a winner. He was on his way.
“Congratulations,” boomed the governor who stepped upon the plywood stage set up for military recognitions, fire department installations and politicians. “We stand here today as winners and in a few months will stand together in Springfield as leaders representing the citizens of the Great State of Illinois. But first we gotta get ‘em to the polls,” the governor said.
The renewed cheering partially obliterated the rest of the governor’s sentence which ended as did so many of his campaign pledges, “…if we work together.”
“Well that is sure as shit the fly in the ointment, isn’t it,” Lucille said that night. “Working together,” she snorted. She, too, had attended the rally, but she had attended to the seminars and orientations filled with the mishmash of campaign aides and treasurers and spouses. She had been surprised to realize Bill’s campaign committee was far more organized than most. She was surprised and disheartened. She’d expected to find support systems at the rally only to discover Bill’s primary win was drawing other campaigns to her, asking her for help on their fledgling efforts.
“Tell Carlene Deluccio about working together. I didn’t think Carlene Deluccio could work any harder than she did for Harrison, but she’s outdoing herself for Johnson. She’s not even pretending she isn’t supporting a Republican. And she is holding your goddamn seat, for god’s sakes. You should never have resigned. That seat should have been mine.”
William Wolf was flat on his back on one of the two beds in the Holiday Inn where he and Lucille had decided to “take an extra night, away from the campaign, for a slight breather.” His right forearm was thrown over his closed eyes.
“And don’t just do that big sigh,” Lucille said into the silence.
“You know what I’m saying is the truth,” Lucille said into the continued silence.
“You know she’s just a snake in the grass. They’re all snakes,” Lucille said.
“Now that,” Bill said, taking down his arm, “is the first true thing you’ve said. Carlene isn’t for Johnson, Carlene is for Paulie. Between her personally and three businesses she’s contributed about $350,000. Public contributed. God knows how much more she’s given.”
Lucille was silent and then asked. “What does that mean?”
“Let me rephrase that. Carlene is for Carlene. The public contributions came in four installments. One of them a year and a half ago, about the time the governor visited.”
“What?” Lucille tried to catch up. “Your old seat is worth $350,000?”
“No,” Bill Wolf said, replacing his arm over his eyes, “Carlene is worth $350,000 to the governor. More.”
“I don’t get it. All this just to give her a commissioner seat? All of this?” Lucille looked around the motel room, their clothes strewn from open suitcases, a bottle of bourbon next to the coffeepot just outside the bathroom. “How much are you worth to him?” Lucille asked.
Bill was silent.
“Well you’ve just got to become more valuable,” Lucille said.
Bill turned away from her and in a moment she realized he was sobbing.