We often judge political campaigns by the money they bring in and the image they project in their ads. We imagined another measure: what is the atmosphere in their campaign HQ?
Channeling Architectural Digest, we went to check out the vibes at the Anchorage headquarters of the three leading US House contenders – Mary Peltola, Nick Begich and Sarah Palin.
Mary Peltola Campaign, Spenard Road
Architecture: 1980s strip mall
Nearest neighbor: pet supply store, in the next storefront
We arrived unannounced and were greeted at reception by Fletcher Harris, who appears in Peltola’s campaign videos as the guy who delivers the street signs. On learning that the guest is a journalist, the director of the organization, René Martin, intervened.
The office is almost empty.
“A day with blue skies is actually really good news, because it means everyone is knocking on the door,” Martin said.
It’s a huge limitation to judge a campaign by its headquarters: a lot of the work doesn’t happen here. But some of the energy and character of the campaign shines through, so we continue our vibe check and challenge Martin to describe the setting.
“Oh my God,” he said, searching his brain for interior design terms. “Casual campaign?”
The room behind reception is large and haphazardly furnished, with mismatched chairs and desks in no particular alignment. A large dog toy – a half-chewed rope – is on the floor.
“Yes, our campaign mascot is Rainy,” Martin said. “It is lent to us by our digital consultants.”
The dog, like almost everyone else, was out that afternoon.
Peltola’s campaign did not have its own offices until it learned that it had won the special election. Martin said the organization has grown rapidly. He’s an experienced country man from Cleveland, one of many non-Alaskans working here.
Nick Begich III Campaign, Northern Lights Boulevard
Architecture: strip mall from the 1980s.
Nearest neighbours: A wig shop and a private motor vehicle registration office.
On our first attempt to visit, the door was locked. We called for an appointment and the next morning the candidate greeted us at the entrance to his impressive HQ.
“Yeah, it’s spacious,” he said.
It’s more than spacious. It’s unusually set up for a campaign office. Walls have a designer color scheme — chartreuse, teal, and coral pink. Even the cabin dividers look cool, with a bold red graphic design.
Begich said he rented it furnished, and it looked like this when he got it.
“It was a turnkey space,” he said.
A former tenant sold office furniture. Begich thinks it was set up to show off the goods.
A small team sits around a conference table and quietly puts rubber bands on campaign leaflets.
Begich shows me the small floor where his office is. It’s a Zoom-ready space, with innocuous framed art as a backdrop. Out of camera range are more personal items.
“I have an ironing board — I iron my own shirts if I need to — and a pillow,” Begich said. “Because I sometimes work 16 hours a day. And sometimes I will have to crash for about 30 minutes.
He has been campaigning for the seat for about a year. He worked out of his house for months, and now here.
“And I’m working on it full time, like it’s a start-up.”
Start-up – that’s the vibe here: Tech start-up.
Campaign by Sarah Palin, aka Ward Realty, Old Seward Highway
Architecture: Low-rise commercial space, built in the 1960s and painted blue
Nearest neighbour: Judy’s Cafe, across the parking lot
The door is unlocked on a sunny afternoon. Campaign volunteer and building owner Margaret Ward warmly welcomed an unexpected visit from a small table by the window. She is quick to laugh. We barely started talking when her husband arrived.
“Oh, here comes Jerry!” she says.
Palin’s senior campaign adviser Jerry Ward said he went to check on six volunteers who were knocking on nearby doors.
Ward was Donald Trump’s top campaign official in Alaska and helped organize Trump’s rally in Anchorage in July.
The room, along with huge “Sarah for Alaska” signs, has colorful light strips, garlands, and crepe paper streamers.
“My grandkids did this and it’s beautiful. Red, white and blue,” Ward said. “And there’s a ball there too.”
Yes, just one. It’s blue, with stars on it. If he was ever lighter than air, it’s not now. It hangs from its attachment to the wall.
Back at the small table by the window, the Wards talk about their grandchildren and their long heritage in Alaska.
In the center of the table is a Bible, with a personalized cover on which are inscribed the family names. Jerry Ward said he brought it from home so he could do some on-site research.
“People will come and quote me the Bible and I have to look it up,” he said. “I don’t know it by heart.
Who comes in and quotes Bible verses to him?
“Different people have done it,” he said. “Not everyone. Some people just want a button or a sticker, or they want to know how they can get a picture with Sarah Palin and Donald Trump.
This headquarters is more a reflection of the neighborhoods. But it shares elements that Palin projects — It’s intimate, personality-driven, and has the Trump stamp of approval.