Facing a recount? Brace yourself

Former Sen. Norm Coleman’s (R-Minn.) 2008 election recount lasted so long that he eventually considered it a part of his daily routine.
 
“I almost got used to it,” he said of the nearly eight-month-long process. After a certain point, he assumed the mindset, “OK, it’s another day in the park.”
 

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But those midterm congressional candidates and campaign staffers stuck in recount purgatory after Tuesday’s inconclusive results are likely to feel depleted, both emotionally and physically, and could be riding a rollercoaster of anxiety and optimism for an indefinite period of time, according to Coleman and others who have experienced protracted election recounts.
 
The best thing to do, they say: dip into your energy reserves, rely on your colleagues for support, and know when to let go.
 
Coleman acknowledges that in an epic race like his contest with Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenLankford to be named next Senate Ethics chairman The job no GOP senator wants: 'I'd rather have a root canal' Take Trump literally and seriously in Minnesota MORE (D-Minn.), the thought of a recount can be exasperating after the candidates and their campaign teams have fought so hard for so long.
 
“For most of us, the election’s supposed to end on Election Day, so you give out every bit of energy you have,” he said. “When you get to a recount situation, you’ve already spent your energy — and now you’re back into it.”
 
Stage 1: Regroup
 
Candidates and staffers tend to go through several phases when their contests enter a recount, experts say.
 
Ben Ginsberg, a partner at the law firm of Patton Boggs who worked on the GOP side of both the 2000 Bush-Gore presidential recount and the Coleman-Franken recount, said people involved in recounts often have to get over the initial shock.
 
“The first reaction you have in a recount is: You can’t believe it’s really happening to you,” he says. Candidates and campaign staffers often think about the prospect of a recount on an intellectual level but still feel surprised once they realize their race won’t come to a neat conclusion, Ginsberg said.
 
Surprise is often followed by despair.
 
“I really think the worst moment of all of it was the day after Election Day,” said Andy BarrAndy Hale BarrOn the Trail: Forget the pundits, more electoral votes could be in play in 2020 Mnuchin to lawmakers: 'I'm highly encouraged you will' pass Trump's North America trade deal Kentucky Democrat moves closer to McConnell challenge MORE, who was Franken’s campaign communications director. “You’re preparing to collapse through the finish line on Election Day … It was like waking up and realizing you’re still in a nightmare because it really wasn’t over. I don’t think anybody was really emotionally prepared for it.”
 
Chris Sautter, a co-author of The Recount Primer who has worked on the Democratic side for most major recounts in the past two decades, said most candidates and campaigners remain in a state of disbelief and depression through the weekend after Election Day because few people know what will happen to resolve the uncertainty.
 
“The tension of the recount happens in the early days, when the outcome is still in doubt,” he says.
 
Stage 2: Action (or inaction)
 
But campaigns quickly sign on fresh bodies to start making sense of the situation, an injection of energy that often brings the operation back to life, Sautter said.
 
“You get a transfusion of new blood,” he added, with the election-law experts who swoop in to oversee the procedure and supporters energized by their belief in their candidate to do the grunt work.
 
Indeed, Stephanie Schriock, Franken’s campaign manager in 2008, said their operation nearly doubled during the recount.
 
She said her strategy was to give her staff a sense of purpose and to tap into their loyalty to Franken despite their being down hundreds of votes at the outset of the recount.
 
“All of us knew deep down that the votes were there, so we were just raring to go to make sure every vote was counted,” said Schriock, now the president of EMILY’s List. “I think if everybody knows what they’re doing and has the room to do what they need to do, people just keep working.”
 
Candidates, however, usually have to take a step back from the action, according to both Sautter and Coleman, because there’s little they can do to positively affect the recount process.
 
“You kind of turn it over to others,” Coleman said. “It’s still a campaign, [but] you turn it over to the lawyers, in part because you’re just tired.”
 
Stage 3: The ups and downs
 
No matter how many new bodies fortify the campaign, though, people will still experience the highs and lows of the drawn-out process.
 
“I would describe it as kind of an emotional rollercoaster ride,” said Jerr Rosenbaum, who was former Rep. Virgil Goode’s (R-Va.) chief of staff during the 2008 recount with Rep. Tom Perriello (D). Rosenbaum managed Goode’s recount efforts.
 
“It was nerve-wracking and exhilarating, depending on what results were coming in,” said Rosenbaum, now Rep. Jack Kingston’s (R-Ga.) chief of staff. The Associated Press called the race for Goode on election night, but Goode’s campaign staff later had to leave the victory party to begin forming the recount operation.
 
Both Rosenbaum and Barr, the Franken staffer, noted that the topsy-turvy time resulted in a strong bond among colleagues.
 
“You lean on each other a lot,” Barr said. “It’s sort of the overly romanticized part of working on a campaign — but it’s true. You can sort of take turns having your breakdowns if you schedule it right.”
 
Stage 4: The end
 
Recount survivors can offer little advice other than “Hang in there” for those candidates and staffers who might be looking at prolonged recounts after Tuesday’s results.
 
“There’s an old poem that goes, ‘Keep your head while everyone around you is losing theirs,’ and that really is the way to survive a recount,” Ginsberg said.
 
Coleman doesn’t like recounts — he doesn’t think they’re good for the public — but he knows that outlook offers little comfort in the midst of one.
 
“It’s the system we have,” he said, “and we just have to deal with it.”
 
But Sautter has possibly the simplest and most heartening words of wisdom for those about to enter a recount.
 
“Everybody survives.”