Joe Morrissey's been going 94 straight days now, walking his black wingtips up to 7,557 front doors and through two pairs of soles, shooting that smile, that dream of his, at the Republican voters of southwest Fairfax County.
He rings the bell.
He passes the brochure.
He gives them the souvenir pen.
He sticks out the hand.
Over and over again. House after house after house.
It is the selling of a delegate, 1981, and the salesman is Joe Morrissey: strategist, idealist, candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates, third year law student, an Irish Catholic Republican with curly brown hair over his ears and barely a beard to shave. He is, as he says, almost 24.
Morrissey is geared, psyched, reved and ready to go, even though he was bitten by a dog and then had to stand and smile for ten minutes, blood oozing through his gray, pin-stripe pants, while the owner explained how friendly Fido really was. Even though a woman friend is sending post cards from the Riviera and wishing he was there. Even though a guy in dark glasses with five locks on his door didn't like his stand on gun control and slammed the door so fast that Joe Morrissey barely escaped with his slightly upturned nose.
He keeps pushing. One more house, Joe, he tells himself. One more brochure: "Joe Morrissey -- a fighter, a leader, a winner." One more pen: a red, white and blue Rite O Graph with his name on the side. His sophomore year at the University of Virginia, Joe Morrissey lost a student council election by only two votes, 988 to 986. He remembers those two votes.
So you ask him. Why Joe? Why politics?
And his chin rises a bit, he takes a deep breath and finally he says: "Joe Morrissey the attorney isn't s---. And Joe Morrissey who lives in Annandale isn't anything. But Joe Morrissey the candidate . . . well, I can go and I can talk to the Annandale Rotary Club or a school will have me talk to their students, because I am in the public service and I have a forum and my ideas mean something. I want to mean something."
Joe Morrissey is a political man-child, the youngest of 171 Democratic and Republican candidates for Virginia's 100-seat House of Delegates. He is a new young Republican -- against the Equal Rights Amendment, opposed to abortion, in favor of limited government -- and up against three Republican incumbents in the 51st District's seven-man primary in which only three will win.
Surrounding himself with fellow law students and high school volunteers, Morrissey is running a classic grass-roots race, a children's campaign of civics class design. He is relying not on slick Celluloid salesmanship or a well organized political machine. Joe Morrissey has mobilized Joe Morrissey -- his energy, his naivete, his drive and his particular dream of how a man can keep from getting lost in a large world.
Joe Morrissey posters seem to hang everywhere in the 51st District, some in places that the county's litter task force has called illegal. He has walked almost 900 miles going door to door. And as his colleagues at Georgetown Law Center send resumes to law firms, Morrissey is applying for a job in politics. He says he'd like to be the Virginia attorney general some day. His staff says he'd like to be a U.S. senator. His own parents say he'd like to be president.
"You can't say what's going to happen," says Morrissey. "When I used to wrestle, even when I knew I was going to wrestle a fish, I never said I was going to win. You never know what's going to happen. You might twist your ankle in warm-ups. All I can say is if I was betting, and I know I'm a challenger, I'd put money on myself."
His opponents include one-term incumbent Larry Pratt, who was featured cradling a shotgun in the August issue of Life magazine as one of the "Young Turks of the Radical Right; moderate incumbent and Northern Virginia educator James Dillard, who served three terms before losing in 1977 and winning again in 1979, and three-term conservative Robert E. Harris. Morrissey must also edge out the ultra-conservative founder of the Fairfax Christian School, Robert Thoburn, who served one term and then lost in 1979; John Adams, winner of the 1977 primary, and Robert Brostrom, also a newcomer.
Of all, Joe Morrissey is the only candidate trudging from Republican door to Republican door in Annandale, Springfield, Burke, Chantilly and Clifton. He says he will spend $10,000 -- $6,000 from his lawn and house painting business, $2,000 from bank loans he took out and $2,000 from contributions. He figures he needs about 2,000 votes to be a winner on Sept. 8 -- $5 for every vote.
"If I can see somebody's face with the name on that ballot, I'm going to vote for him," explains Morrissey press aide Randy Freedman, also 23, who got to know Morrissey through intramural sports and a law school study group.
Close your eyes and listen to Freedman, hear him exhale smoke from a chain of Camel Lights that has graveled his voice, and you picture some hardened and cynical 40-year-old who's been in politics for years, not a former Georgetown Law Weekly staffer who now works as a "legal journalist and clerk" for National Moving and Storage.
"What it comes down to at this grass-roots level of political office," Freedman says, "is that you have people blowing out balloons for you, but at the bottom line it is the candidate, him going out and putting his face in front of the voters."
So every evening and on weekends, Joe Morrissey is out meeting people like those who live in the 20-year-old brick ramblers of North Springfield. Smooshing his way through the rotten crab apples that litter every sidewalk, he introduces himself to low-level bureaucrats and poeple who care how politics will end up affecting them. Like one woman who didn't care as much about Metro going to Dulles on the connector road median as she did about the position of the subway stop once it gets there.
"I got three kids and six bags when I travel," she told the candidate. "If I'm going to use that subway, I don't want to have to lug everything a half mile to get to the terminal like you have to do at National."
In North Springfield, where there are many Republicans, Morrissey "hits" 55 houses in two hours one recent night. As he walks to each house, he looks to see if the lawn has been edged, what bumper stickers are on the cars, what ornaments are on the windowsills.
"You need to use anything you can to get next to these people," he says. "The more friendly and familiar you can be, the better impression you're going to leave."
Here, he is well received, usually invited inside for a talk or a glass of water. A pair of older couples ask him in and he swaps jokes with the men while the women play Scrabble. They all wish him luck. But it is the dozen or so bad experiences he has had with voters that cling to memory.
Along the new frontier of Lake Braddock, crab apple trees give way to hanging ferns and artificial turf on the front stoop. In the maze of cul-de-sacs lined with similar-looking earth-tone contemporaries, the Republicans are fewer, and he hits only 20 houses in 90 minutes, running afoul of one woman as he goes.
He knocks, hands the brochure, hands the pen. She asks where he stands on the ERA. Joe is opposed. She rips up the brochure, lets the pieces rain to the floor, and walks inside, still holding the pen. The rudeness irks him.
"But what can you do? My nature is to have some remark to say. I feel like saying, 'All I'm trying to do is meet you and let you know who I am. I don't put up with that.'
"But that wouldn't be right, either. She would be telling all her friends that that candidate, Joe Morrissey, came by and just because I wouldn't talk to him he uttered this and this and that."
Morrissey picks Fritzbes, a purposefully eclectic bar in Annandale with popcorn on the tables and snappy sayings on the dark wood walls, for dinner. He comes here often and one waitress, who takes her orders with a Joe Morrissey pen, brings over several friends to meet the candidate.
Settling down to his Glutton Burger and fries, Morrissey is told that several county Republican operatives interviewed have said that Morrissey worked on the successful state senatorial campaign of Democrat Richard L. Saslaw, implying that Morrissey is a political turncoat. They have said his father, a doctor, is footing his campaign expenses, and they have said that Morrissey went on record favoring gay rights at the University of Virginia.
He, too, has heard the rumors. His bright face darkens, he leans forward, outraged. He did work for Saslaw, he says. "But I don't know how it got out. Nobody knew me. I was interested in politics and hadn't yet chosen a party. I wanted to see what a campaign was like."
As for money, he says, he financed most of the campaign himself, some from the profits of a lawn care service he started when he was 18 and which once netted him $1,000 a week.
"Gay rights?" he asks. "Come on. When I was running for student council someone asked me if I favored funding for the gay rights group. I said I didn't think they met the proper guidelines.
"It really ticks me off," he says. "It's not fair."
Candidate Morrissey has traded his wingtips for brown suede saddle shoes, his blue pinstrips for dirty khakis. He hasn't had much time for laundry lately. In a conference room at Georgetown Law Center, Joe Morrissey is playing prosecutor in a mock courtroom proceeding, under the watchful eye of a Georgetown law clinic lawyer and a video camera.
Most of the students are unsure. They speak quietly and unsteadily. The lawyer/teacher calls court to order.
The mock defense attorney speaks first. "Your Honor, I am Hernando L., counsel for defendant J.J., student attorney at the Georgetown Criminal Justice Clinic, also representing codefendant Ellen C., of the Georgetown Criminal Justice Clinic."
"Is she a codefendant, counsel or a co-counsel?" the teacher asks abruptly.
"Oh, I mean, co-counsel for co-defendant."
Then Joe Morrissey bolts to his feet, confident and matter-of-fact as if he'd been doing it for years. "Your Honor, the government is ready in this case. My name is Joe Morrissey. I'll be assisted by co-counsel Larry D. in the case of United States v. . . . . "
"We know the case," interrupts the teacher. "You may proceed."
"Officer," says Morrissey, turning to another lawyer seated at the table who is playing the parts of all the witnesses. "Will you state your name, rank . . . ."
"Counsel," the teacher interrupts again. "Which officer is on the stand now? You want to call him and swear him first?"
Later, when the trial is over, Morrissey acknowledges, "I've got a lot to learn, but this is nothing compared to the action in Richmond. I'll learn that just like I'll learn this."
Joe Morrissey didn't always know he was Republican. Oddly, he made his decision after consulting left-leaning political scientist Larry Sabato. Morrissey had Sabato for a State and Local Government class in college. "We talked out his beliefs, and I thought his views were clearly Republican," Sabato recalls. "It was a matter of a very young person having political attitudes but not having them ordered in terms of the two-party system."
Today, Morrissey says Republicanism was "there all the time. I just didn't know it." Pulled by his Irish Catholic heritage toward the Democratic party -- his great uncle was once the Democratic mayor of Cohoes, N.Y., and a cog in the Albany County machine -- he says he also felt a strong identification with Republican issues.
"Once I decided it was what I wanted to do, it was like that choice was there all the time," he says. "The exact, exact case was when I decided to go to law school. At first I took pre-med courses, partially because my father a doctor wanted me to. But when I decided to go to law school, it was like there was no other choice after all."
For young Republicans like Morrissey and his staffers, the more liberal views of their older brothers and sisters seem outdated and pointless.
Morrissey campaign headquarters is adorned with pictures of Joe Morrissey on horseback in the moors of England, Joe playing golf at St. Andrews in Scotland, Joe's parents aboard their 26-foot cabin cruiser that they keep at their summer cottage at Sandy Point, Va. A copy of "The Magic of Thinking Big," by the author of "The Magic of Self Direction," is on a table.
In the 1960s, says campaign aide Josh Rales, a night law school student who works days in his family's business, "people were mad about Vietnam, the killings and the injustice. A lot of people maintained then that the system was wrong, and they tried to do things against the system and be outrageous. All those people who went up to that farm in New York, what was it called?"
"Woodstock?" he is asked.
"Yea, Woodstock. But what did that accomplish? People didn't get jobs out of it. We're working within the system to get our views across."
The other night, not too far from the big brick house in the beautifully wooded Poe section of Fairfax where Joe's parents moved 18 years ago to raise their six children, Joe Morrissey and two high school volunteers were putting up a billboard. "A carload of guys came up . . . and came to a . . . stop," says Morrissey, recalling the evening.
"Hey," one of the three guys called from the Toyota. "What do you think you're doing?"
"We're putting this sign back up," Morrissey said.
"The hell you are," said another.
"Those are Joe Morrissey signs and we're voting for him. You better leave them alone."
Joe Morrissey walked up to the three clean-cut young men in their early 20s and extended a hand. "Well, that's nice. I'm Joe Morrissey."
"The hell you are," said one.
One of Morrissey's volunteers ran to the candidate's orange MGB and brought out a Morrissey poster, ran back and held it up to the candidate's face.
"Hey, you are Joe Morrissey," said one of the young men. "We're going to vote for you, you can be sure of that."
That's just the kind of sentiment, the kind of attention Joe Morrissey likes. "All I've done this summer will pay off if I win," he says. "It's a way of the people coming out and saying, 'We're with you. We're for you. You can do something for us down in Richmond.' "
And then his voice, which usually projects from his diaphragm, moves to his throat, and he swallows. "It's praise, whatever, I'd a . . . I don't know . . . I need it."