On Monday, on the same evening the Associated Press called the Arizona Senate race for Democrat Kyrsten Sinema in a distant conceptual universe, a golden retriever sits on the couch beside his owner and listens to her voice.
The woman sounds a bit subdued, even disappointed. But she isn’t scolding anyone. Her cadence is warm, calm and firm and — importantly — she is stroking Boomer’s paw, which probably means everything is going to be okay.
“Hey, everybody, I just called Kyrsten Sinema and congratulated her on becoming Arizona’s first female senator after a hard-fought battle,” she says. “I wish her all success as she represents Arizona in the Senate.”
The woman is not looking at Boomer as she speaks but rather at a camera on the other side of the living room. Boomer looks at it, too. The woman has been talking to cameras a lot lately.
He first met her four years earlier, when he was still pretty much a puppy. Boomer’s first owners had given him up, so the woman took him to live with her in Tucson, in a house with a yard filled with tennis balls.
She had a different notion of dog behavior than he was used to and didn’t exactly look pleased when she’d find him lying on the dining room table. But she forgave him when he buried her mother’s pajamas under the mesquite tree, and in time she’d tell people that she couldn’t imagine life without him.
A few months after Boomer’s first birthday, in 2014, the woman got a new job and started leaving town a lot. But that was okay; the next-door neighbor would watch Boomer while his owner was at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.
“And I also want to say thank you to everybody who supported me in this campaign,” she says, still looking at the camera, and Boomer starts to fidget on the couch. “My staff and volunteers and everybody who voted for me.”
One day, when Boomer was a little over 3 years old, cameras followed the pair as she walked him through the Arizona desert. Then she sat with him in the bed of a pickup truck, scratched his chest and joked: “They say if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”
The Martha McSally for Congress campaign uploaded the reelection ad to YouTube in November 2016 — with a sunny jingling soundtrack and a simple title: “Boomer.”
Not that Boomer cared about the postproduction.
Now she reaches for his chest again as he stares at her from his side of the cushion. She doesn’t look back and continues her short speech:
“I’m so grateful to you as my wingmen and my wingwomen in this journey. We sure wish it came out with a different result, but I’m so thankful for you.”
She started traveling a lot this year. Even when she wasn’t working in Washington, she’d go to towns and cities across Arizona, with crowds and cameras and signs reading, “Martha McSally for U.S. Senate.”
She took him with her to a rally in Sun City two weeks ago. “Come here, boo boo!” she called, and tried to grab him as he ran across the stage and the crowd laughed.
“May I introduce to you Don Jr. — Don Trump Jr.” she told the crowd a minute later. Then a man in a suit came on stage and started to talk about “fake news” and “radical socialist policies.” Before long, the crowd was yelling, and Boomer didn’t return to the stage that day.
Last Tuesday, the woman stayed up very late and sounded happy when she went to bed.
But something changed over the next few days. The woman stopped talking to cameras much. If Boomer watched TV, he would have heard other people say his owner’s name as they spoke of “voter fraud” and “disenfranchisement” and a Republican Senate seat slipping away.
Then, Monday evening, Boomer was called to the couch for one last appearance in the 2018 campaign.
“As I traveled around this state, I was so inspired by the many people that I met, and I am convinced Arizona is the best state in the country,” the woman says. Boomer sits straight up, and she strokes his fur as she nears the end of her speech.
“Our best days are still yet to come, and I’m going to continue to pray for our success,” she says. “Thank you so much.”
Boomer has a paw in the air now, as if to shake her hand. The congresswoman doesn’t take it, but that’s okay. The camera will be gone soon.