Outside Sen. Floyd H. Haskell's office in the Russell Office Building, file boxes are piled in the corridor, waiting to be carted away. Inside, the receptionist ignores visitors as she chats busily on the telephone about job possibilities. Floyd Haskell is closing out his senatorial career after getting clobbered in last month's election.
Last winter The Washington Post picked the Colorado Democrat, a typical senator facing a tough campaign, as the subject for occasional articles about how an incumbent runs for reelection. Now that it was over, how did Haskell rate the significance of his incumbency in the election?
"Incumbency didn't help me. I don't think incumbency per se means a damn thing. People would keep telling me to talk about being subcommittee chairman of this and subcommittee chairman of that -- frankly, I don't think people could care less about it.
"People don't care -- the guy mowing his lawn, he doesn't give a goddamn whether some clown is chairman of some subcommittee on the Energy Committee. He'll have a visceral reaction, a tummy reaction as to whether that guy more clearly has his interest at heart than the other fellow."
In defeat, Floyd Haskell is a portrait of stoicism. He smiles a lot and looks great after a two-week vacation in the Caribbean. Friends and associates say he has taken the landslide victory of Republican House member Bill Armstrong without bitterness or recriminations. Why?
"With the margin [of defeat -- 59 to 41 percent], I don't have that haunting feeling, 'If only I'd raised $50,000 more, if only I'd gone to Adams County for another function, if I'd worked harder I could have done it.' My reaction is, it wasn't winnable. I gave it a helluva good try, so I'm really not all that disappointed about it. I mean, there are a lot of other things to do in life."
In fact, Haskell now says, "In the back of my mind I really wasn't looking forward" to another six-year term. But he quickly adds, "On the other hand, I sure as hell didn't go into it with the idea of not winning." Still, "now I can lead a little bit more normal life, instead of this business of constitutents in the morning, some staff person bugging you about something, and never really feeling on top of anything.
"Now, whatever I do I can at least get on top of."
That Haskell didn't altogether enjoy being a senator was not something he could have talked about before election day. There was pride involved, of course -- campaigner Armstrong was saying that Haskell had been a bad senator. But many of Haskell's associates knew that he was less than keen about the job, and about politics, too. He never had been an enthusiast.
"People around here just don't have enough time to concentrate on any one thing," Haskell said last week of the Senate. "They're torn in 16 different ways. They've got to make snap decisions, they've got to run out to their state and give speeches, and it's just not the kind of life I particularly enjoy. I mean I enjoy it, don't get me wrong, I enjoyed my six years, but it's not all bad that I don't have six more. Put it that way."
Haskell was not a senator who made a powerful impact -- either on the Senate or on Colorado.
He had an interesting career, fighting several years for tax reform (but abandoning the battle as in vain), trying to create more protected wilderness areas, working for experiments with unconventional energy sources. But his accomplishments were modest, and he never tried to embellish them or to blow his own horn.
"A lot of times with political types they have to call an apple an orange to win," Haskell said last week. "I am averse to calling an apple an orange."
Haskell's campaign strategists are still wondering what happened to their man, whose own poll less than a week before the election showed him running even with Armstrong, a conservative Republican and born-again Christian.
Jill Buckley and Joe Rothstein, the Washington-based political consultants who handled the Haskell campaign, began with the theory that they could only count on 45 percent of the voters as loyal Haskell supporters (even this proved optimistic.) They reckoned they would have to convince a substantial number of voters that Armstrong was too far to the right to deserve their support -- in other words, they would have to make Armstrong an issue.
But before doing this, Buckley, Rothstein and Haskell wanted to try to establish that Haskell was a good, useful senator. They devised a media campaign on the theme "Haskell for People," trying to show in appealing television and radio spots that Haskell and done a great deal to help Colorodans, in big and small ways. As Buckley said in an interview last week, this campaign didn't work.
"Maybe those ads just weren't credible," she said, adding that perhaps voters didn't have personal experience with Haskell that would support the ads. Or perhaps the issues involved just didn't impress many people.
In the last two months of the campaign, the Haskell camp followed its plan of trying to portray Armstrong as a right-winger, emphasizing his House votes against many social programs and environmental causes. But this apparently didn't work either. Though the conservative Republican candidate for governor stumbled badly and incumbent Richard D. Lamm easily won reelection, Armstrong's smooth campaign never faltered.
Haskell thinks the reason for his defeat is simple:
"I think it was the times... Bill campaigned on inflation, that I caused inflation because I helped with deficit spending, and deficit spending causes inflation, therefore 'vote against Haskell and vote for me.' And I think people bought that line. And if people are willing to buy that line, there's really nothing we can do.
"Maybe I was too far to the left for the state. I think Bill Armstrong is too far to the right for the state, but people don't know it yet."
Haskell noted that Armstrong made much of the periodic congressional measures to "temporarily" raise the ceiling on the national debt, which Haskell voted for and Armstrong voted against. "Of course, if one of those measures was ever defeated," Haskell observed, "the United States would default on billions of its debt" since the much lower permanent debt ceiling would automatically come back into effect.
Friends would say that wry appreciation for the ambiguity of politics typifies Haskell's approach. "He wallows in the grays," one observed. "He can't see it in blacks and whites."
Haskell was also a citizen politician thrown up by the Vietnam era. He had been a Republican state legislator at the time of the invasion of Cambodia in 1970, but he switched parties in protest then and ran for the Senate as a Democrat in the tumult of 1972, a very different time.
"I suppose now people are turned off on politics," Haskell said last week, agreeing that he was the product of a different climate. "There's no cutting issue now. They want to be left alone. There's not much of an issue for a citizen politician. Just 'good government' isn't a good issue. That just doesn't grab 'em.... You've got to have something like inflation that scares the hell out of people..."
The new rallying cry, Haskell said, may be "get government off my back." But he thinks this may be temporary.
"The minute you take government out of people's concerns, if you ever did, you'd find one helluva reaction. If you do away with equal opportunity, if you do away with OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration), if you do away with senior citizens, you'll have a helluva reaction. So if these guys who talk that language ever get in control, and if they implement what they're talking about, then I think there'll be a reversion to the citizen politician."
But not to Floyd Haskell. He is 62 now and plans to remarry in February (his fiance is Nina Totenberg, a reporter for National Public Radio) and begin a new life practicing law in Washington.