Why I’m glad I lost my campaign for Congress

This week, a friend visiting from Utah asked if I could arrange a tour of the United States Capitol on our way to the airport for his flight home. We’d allowed a little extra time and calculated we could enjoy a quick tour of the Capitol if we found someone in-the-know who could hit the highlights quickly enough.

As we crossed Memorial Bridge from Virginia into the District of Columbia, I placed a call to an old friend I hadn’t spoken to in far too long. It took just a few minutes for her to arrange the tour and parking and for us to arrive at her senate office building. We were tremendously grateful for her willingness to make it happen on such short notice.

Even though it wasn’t my first tour of the United States Capitol, it had been long enough that I found myself marveling wide-eyed at the history just as much as my newbie first-time friend. If you’ve ever been, you know the history is so rich, the spirit of the Founding Fathers hangs on you like one of their heavy waistcoats.

We passed several members of Congress racing to and from meetings and I couldn’t help but think how different my life would have been if Heavenly Father had answered a prayer or two.

I’m so grateful he didn’t.

In the year 2000, working and walking in those halls was my top priority. I was living in Utah during an exciting time in state politics. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) was up for reelection. So, too, was former Republican Gov. Mike Leavitt. Like Hatch, Leavitt’s approval ratings hovered in the 80’s and both were well regarded on each side of the aisle. Nevertheless, when it came time to run for reelection, both men faced a long list of opponents for the nomination.

In fact, I recall that nearly every major office holder in the state faced a newcomer aiming to swipe his or her job. Then, with the filing deadline approaching, several friends made their final pitch that Republican Rep. Chris Cannon in Utah’s 3rd Congressional District still needed an opponent.

It’s a truism that in Utah, which will hold its primary election on June 26, the key to getting elected is to win the Republican Party nomination. In most races, you win the nomination and you win in the fall. Utah isn’t alone in this and there are many safe seats and safe states around the country, but perhaps no other quite like Utah.

These friends and colleagues wondered: Would I be willing to take on Congressman Cannon and highlight a couple of key differences of opinion? I consulted with my wife, other family members, heaven and a few Republican party operatives.

Why not?

Not everyone agrees with me, but I have always believed these intraparty challenges are helpful. It’s healthy for incumbents to face a challenger and no one should ever run unopposed. Politicians need to be tested in front of and under the lights on their positions, accomplishments and visions for what should come next.

I have such fond memories of traveling to many county conventions throughout the 3rd District and speaking to voters. My family joined me for most of these adventures and I cherish the memories we made during the miles we logged together.

Cannon and I shared the stage many times and though we had a few disagreements, our exchanges were very cordial and highly professional. He treated me with enormous respect, and I hope he’d say the same about me.

With each speech, radio interview or interaction with a potential voter, I became more convinced that serving in Congress was part of my life plan. I was learning to speak on my feet without notes and to articulate myself better on paper with newsletters and press releases.

I prayed for guidance. I prayed for an opportunity to work for meaningful reform as a part of a government and a country I love. I prayed for big dreams and even bigger plans to turn the House of Representatives on its head.

When the state convention arrived, I discovered I’d been grossly outspent and outspoken. I was outworked and worked over. I never tested the theory, but I’ve always suspected that everyone who voted for me could fit in the checkout line of your local Kwik-e-Mart.

Indeed, when the votes were counted, I had more unanswered prayers than votes.

As I pulled yard signs from the hard ground and untied my shoestring campaign, I fixated on two simple questions:

Doesn’t Heavenly Father answer prayers?

So what was the point?

Soon after the campaign ended, I accepted an unexpected job offer to move to Virginia and begin working at a think-tank. Within weeks, I was writing and within months I had op-eds published in several newspapers. A year later, I appeared for the first time on Fox News and sat at a conference room table across from the President of the United States, George W. Bush.

With a dose of confidence, I began writing more and published my first novel. The next year came another, then another, then a literal move from the city to the country and a figurative move from politics to full-time fiction and public speaking.

This week as I walked the halls of Congress, my failed campaign and the lessons came back to me. No, I’m not working on Capitol Hill or affecting change in government. But I’m happy, spiritually fulfilled and finding ways to share my faith through written and spoken words at every opportunity.

Yep, I guess that’s why I’m glad I lost my campaign for Congress.

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