For half of the candidates on Tuesday's ballot, these are the days you remember.
If you win, you remember what comes next. But if you lose, you always second-guess what came before. You have years — decades, even — to Monday morning quarterback your campaign, to revisit what you should have thought, said or done, especially in the final days, when time almost stops and you campaign day and night and it seems (usually wrongly) like every decision you make is crucial.
Mostly, they aren't so crucial. Most races are "decided" even now. Polls don't vote, but they're usually right (especially when they show you losing). But if the races that really are still up for grabs have already dwindled, if the last-minute decisions mostly won't determine who wins or loses, for those who lose, these are the final minutes in the spotlight.
My best advice to candidates is very simple: Use them well. They may not determine whether you win or lose, but they will define you in the public eye. They will be the measure of your class. This is legacy time, whether that's what you were aiming for or not.
This has not been the kind of campaign that would make a mother proud. Any mother. I don't know that I've ever seen a nastier, more mean-spirited race — but then, it feels like we say that every two years. Seriously, though: It. Has. Been. Bad.
In the old days, candidates really did switch back to positive ads in the closing days of campaigns. Closers, we called them, literally. Close on a positive note. What an old-fashioned thought. These days, only candidates with double-digit leads worry about closing positively.
No, the new danger in closing weekends of campaigns is that the worst of the past year or two all gets concentrated in one little weekend: all the attacks and counterattacks, and viciousness and innuendo, with the added protection that there is barely time to respond, much less figure out the truth. Campaigns that have gone badly tend to end badly and leave everyone feeling angry and embittered. The truth is that they don't really end, even though they should.
We need to end this one on Tuesday. If not before.
I hope at least a few candidates in these closing days will stop to say something positive about their opponents, about the other party, about the need to work together after Tuesday, about the values and ideals we share and how they are far more important than what divides us.
I hope at least a few candidates will take the time to remind themselves, and us, why they got into this business in the first place, what they dreamt of, what they hoped to accomplish, and why it's important to still believe in such dreams even after you've been through such a process.
I hope at least a few will give the kind of speech they'll be proud to re-read when it's all over because it was right and true, and not just the product of careful research and polling; that a few will get ahead of the nastiness and the ugliness and will stand tall and proud and for something better than we've all been mucking through for the past few months.
I hope at least a few will be thinking of life after Wednesday, because it will make it a whole lot easier for all of us to get through the rest of the week ahead. The people who lose on Tuesday may not set the agenda for the future, but in defeat, they can set the tone. For better or for worse.