Sam who?

Six weeks on the campaign trail with a barely known Cambodian refugee who's running for Congress
By LAWRENCE BERGMAN  |  October 13, 2010

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Sam Meas was hardly a household name, even when he was running for the United States Congress seat in Massachusetts's Fifth District — and he's even less of one now that he lost. Meas is a Cambodian refugee, and his bid to be the Republican challenger to Democratic incumbent Niki Tsongas may have been a long shot. But it was a noble effort, a classic tale right out of a civics book — or maybe a sitcom. Politics, at this level, is nothing like the way it's portrayed on television or in the newspapers. From the inside, on the ground, in the back rooms, it's a pulsating ball of emotion, crisis, and inadvertent comedy. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

This past August, I was hired by Meas to be his media-slash-PR director. I find this funny simply because Meas is so "right" his GPS won't even let him make a left turn, whereas I make George McGovern look like Sarah Palin. That being said, Meas is a great guy and a true hero. He survived Pol Pot's killing fields and three years in a refugee camp before making it to America. My toughest dose of human punishment was probably that 8 am class I had freshman year at Penn State.

I was coming on board late in the campaign, along with two others. Mike Sullivan, former mayor of Lawrence, joined as chief campaign strategist. The other newcomer was our behind-the-scenes operative, an anonymous fellow who I will refer to as "Sore Throat," to protect his identity. I assumed I'd write a couple of press releases, get Meas a few interviews, and meet all kinds of interesting people. But within minutes of agreeing to join Meas' campaign, I realized I'd been swindled into becoming his de facto co-campaign manager. Quickly, I learned the chief job of a campaign manager is to tell the candidate he's great, all day long, no matter what the situation.

Meas: "People threw things at me during a campaign stop in Concord."

Me: "Don't worry, you're great."

Meas: "We have no money."

Me: "Don't worry, you're great."

Meas: "We lost the race."

Me: "Don't worry, you're great."

Buddhists and mullets
Many of Meas's volunteers were Cambodians living in the Lowell area. They were understandably proud that one of their own was running for a congressional seat, and determined to help him. These volunteers were literally pulling Cambodian Democrats out of Buddhist temples and re-registering them as Republican or Independent voters. No separation of church and state here!

Our anonymous operative, Sore Throat, was not always present in the flesh, but maintained a strong influence on the campaign via e-mails and the like. Many of Sore Throat's directives would come via late night/early-morning text messages. He had an uncanny knack for knowing everything moments before it happened.

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  Topics: News Features , Massachusetts, Politics, Cambodia,  More more >
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