This is what it’s like.
The Democratic candidate’s campaign is headquartered on two entire floors in a sprawling Art Deco thing at One Pierrepont Street here in Brooklyn. On one side, there’s a spectacular view of the Manhattan skyline and, down below, the building backs onto – ironically – Clinton Street.
There are sleep-deprived Hillary For America kids everywhere you look (volunteers like us write “HFA” in the visitor log book on the main floor). Median age, 26 or 27. Racially diverse, serious, and all wearing some sort of Hillary “merch”.
There’s tons of stuff for sale, in that regard, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Ties (“true blue supporter,” $45), that iconic Hillary rising-sun poster ($30), the “official woman card,” a cheeky rejoinder to one of Donald Trump’s earliest insults ($5). You can only buy them if you’re an American citizen. Or if you have friends on the campaign, which we do. (I got the Hillary socks.)
After you get past three security checkpoints, you are greeted by bodies. Yes, bodies.
There are bodies of campaign staff everywhere. Under stairs, on bean bags up against every wall, standing up at the end of a cubicle. Wherever there is an electrical outlet, you will find a staffer, pecking away at a keyboard and frowning at a bluish laptop screen.
There are more than 800 of them here. They gather under the state flags, or near sections fulfilling different campaign roles: IT, volunteers, comms, even what the Americans call (bizarrely, to me) “surrogates.” That’s what they call the pundits.
Nobody hollers, nobody seems to ever raise their voice. Occasionally, there’ll be a burst of applause as another staffer departs to work on a regional HRC campaign, like in New Hampshire (as me and Lisa did, in the summer) or Pennsylvania (a really important state, believe me). But otherwise, it’s pretty quiet.
Reminders about security and confidentiality are everywhere. Even above the urinals in the guy’s washroom, there are posters of Liam Neeson holding a phone to his ear, below this warning: I DON’T KNOW WHO YOU ARE, BUT I WILL FIND YOU AND MAKE YOU LOCK YOUR COMPUTER. There are even designated spots where you can take a shot with your smartphone. Nowhere else.
It’s the week of the vice-presidential debate, and most of the senior staff, like Clinton campaign boss Robby Mook, are away, getting ready. Tim Kaine will turn in a scrappy, pugnacious effort, which will make everyone at HQ happy. They wanted Kaine to use the occasion to remind everyone about Trump’s serial lies and insults, and he did that. Mike Pence, meanwhile, was all liar, liar, pence on fire.
The shadow of an angry, hulking, stalking man by Warren Kinsella
The veep debate comes in the wake of one of the worst weeks of Trump’s quixotic campaign: deranged, tweeted attacks against a former Miss Universe; mocking Hillary for stumbling during a bout of pneumonia; and the release of his tax returns – by his ex, Marla Maples, everyone here thinks – showing he almost certainly has paid no taxes for two decades.
If the Clinton campaign is feeling cocky about Trump’s Week from Hell, they’re not showing it. Everyone is taking the vice-presidential faceoff very seriously – and they’re ready for a fabled October Surprise to hit. The war room folks, down on the second floor, look like starving lions, ready to pounce without warning.
They’re not sure what to make of the Canadian help. They really like Justin Trudeau, however, and not a few of them joke that they’re moving into the Kinsella family basement if Trump prevails. When they ask my wife Lisa to give a little speech to the assembled volunteers, she tells them that this isn’t just about the future of the United States.
“It’s about the future of the world, too.”
It’s not an overstatement. It’s why we have volunteered for Clinton in Maine, New Hampshire and now New York this year. She has to win. “We can’t let a psycho get access to the nuclear codes,” I tell the deputy comms director, a friend. She nods. She knows. It’s the ballot question.
What can I tell you about the Clinton campaign’s strategy in these crucial final weeks? Nothing. First, I don’t know what it is, and we were low-level volunteers from afar. Second, we signed confidentiality agreements to work on Hillary for America. (I may have violated it by telling you about the urinal sign thing.)
Having worked on one or two campaigns over the years, what I do know is this: When you walk into a campaign office, you can feel if it’s winning one, or a losing one. This is a winning one.
She is going to prevail in this, the most important campaign of my lifetime. She must.
And that’s what it is like, deep inside the Hillary Clinton campaign: The stakes are high and time is running short.
Warren Kinsella is a Canadian journalist, political adviser and commentator.