Labor Pains: Juggling Politics and Pregnancy

Some Candidates Get ‘The Call' on the Trail

Posted September 20, 2010 at 6:39pm

A handful of challengers in races around the country are finding themselves challenged by something at once tiny and huge: a newborn.

Armed with energy drinks, car seats and understanding wives, these men are balancing dual roles as candidate and father of an infant, both of which are notoriously energy-sucking jobs.

Having an expectant wife during a campaign has provided several candidates stories that could have come out of a slapstick movie.

Todd Young, a Republican gunning for the seat held by Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.), was filming a TV commercial when he got what his staff and family now refer to as “The Call.” He was on set, face powdered, delivering his lines to the camera, when his cell phone rang.

His wife, Jenny, was in labor with twins. It was time to go to the hospital. He rushed home, worried not just about the impending delivery, but about the film crew he left behind. They were expensive, flown in from out of town, and they still hadn’t finished the ad. The campaign was in the throes of a tight primary and couldn’t afford to reschedule.

He didn’t have to. After the twins were born, Jenny urged him to go back to the set and finish making the commercial the next morning. “The bags under my eyes were pretty bad,” he said. “But she insisted, and you know, we only won that primary by a couple percentage points. That very well could have been the difference.”

For Jesse Kelly, who is running against Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), the call came at a similarly inopportune moment. The Republican challenger was at a radio station in Tucson, just about to go into the studio for a live interview, when his wife, Aubrey, called to say she needed him to drive her to the hospital to deliver their son, Luke.

Kelly found a way to balance the two duties: He called into the radio station while speeding home to collect his wife. “The whole district found out that my wife was in labor during that interview,” he recalls. “It was difficult to focus on politics because I was so excited.”

And 8-month-old Ana Goyle, the daughter of Democratic candidate Raj Goyle, was literally born into politics. On Dec. 31, Goyle’s wife, Monica, had gone into labor, but doctors urged her to wait at home until she was further along. “The thing was that this was early in the campaign, and we were running it out of the house,” says Goyle, who is hoping to defeat Mike Pompeo in the race for the seat of retiring Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.). “So Monica’s in the bedroom in labor, and there are all these people coming in and out of the house for campaign work.”

But for every funny anecdote, there are countless sacrifices, political dads said, ones that might be familiar to many working parents. Missing a baby’s first smile. Coming home after a draining day too late for bedtime stories.

“There have been tough days, tough evenings. I’ve missed family events, and I’m conflicted because I’ve committed myself to people and to events for the campaign,” Young said.

As savvy politicians, they are quick to heap praise on their wives, who often bear the brunt of tending to the newborn while they tend to their campaigns. “A saint,” Kelly said. “Heroic” is Young’s term.

The decision to run for office in modern times is usually made en famille. After all, even beyond the whirlwind of the campaign, the whole family is affected, either through a move to Washington or an absentee parent commuting to the Capitol. And since adding to one’s family is an unpredictable process, most new-dad candidates said they did not expect to be in the position of trying to balance a baby and a campaign at the same time.

The demands of living with a newborn can compound the stresses of campaign life. Think hitting town halls, debates and small-town suppers every night will drain your energy? Try doing it with a stroller, a car seat and a whimpering baby in tow. Think a campaign involves sleep deprivation? Add in a few feedings a night.

Survival tactics abound. Unsurprisingly, caffeine — the substance that rivals only money for fueling most campaigns — is often mentioned. “We are huge fans of 5-Hour Energy drinks,” Kelly said, referring to his campaign staff’s collective addiction. “We buy them by the six-pack. I don’t know who owns that company, but I owe them a hug.”

He has also declared Sundays off-limits for work. Those are days to go to church with the family and to play-wrestle with his 20-month-old son.

Young also finds that savoring even the smallest family moment is key. He sometimes comes home from nighttime campaign events to find his 4-year-old daughter, Ava — “my restless little princess,” he calls her — unable to sleep. He will load her in his Jeep, sometimes with the baby in the car seat, and just drive through the quiet streets, lulling her to sleep. Back at the house, he’ll carry the sleeping kids upstairs and tuck them in. “Those are special moments for me, and they’re made more special because I don’t get them as often as other dads.”

Most have set up nursery areas in their campaign offices, and staffers have grown accustomed to baby toys amid the usual landscape of phones, desks and campaign signs.

For all the logistical difficulties, candidates with young children often draw parallels between their public and private lives. A campaign is nothing if not a promise of a future life candidates want to build for their own families and for the children of their districts.

“It’s a powerful metaphor,” said Gwen Walz, the wife of Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), who spent most of her husband’s 2006 campaign pregnant with the couple’s son, Gus, now 4.

Walz has a bit of perspective on the experience.

She recalls stories of her own, such as when she and Tim filmed a TV commercial in a cornfield. She was eight months pregnant, the weather was warm and the family was dressed in wooly autumn clothes. “I’m wobbling through this cornfield, trying to look like the perfect family.”

Her secrets: comfortable shoes and a good sense of humor. “We laughed a lot.”

And, she says, kids born in the midst of campaigns are special. They do not just belong to their mothers and fathers, but to the supporters and volunteers who watched her belly grow, and the staffers who scheduled bathroom stops every 20 minutes during swings through the district. They belong to the neighbors and extended family who set up a baby crib and painted the nursery while her husband was on the trail.

In other words, they are babies that everyone gets to kiss.