Why Melissa Murray Bailey didn't clobber Jim Kenney

Republican mayoral candidate Melissa Murray Bailey enjoys a beer and laugh with KYW NewsRadio reporter Mike DeNardo after the polls closed Tuesday night.

HOWEVER Election Day turns out, win or lose, Melissa Murray Bailey told herself that morning, "I'll be surprised."

She was surprised, by a couple of things.

She lost, not unexpectedly in a city where Democrats have a 7-to-1 voter-registration edge, but she lost 85 percent to 13 percent, the largest-ever gap in Philadelphia mayoral history. That was bitter medicine for a woman of worth not familiar with failure.

The full contour of her loss didn't sink in until the next day.

"Yes, I was pretty upset," that she didn't beat the registration odds, the 36-year-old business exec and mother told me. "We didn't make as much progress as I thought we did."

Had she to do it over - and that is unlikely - she would have started earlier, "building out, forming coalitions. I think it's about who you know - and money."

Jim Kenney's campaign raised $2.6 million, while Bailey scrounged up $23,596.

She ran a high-road, issue-oriented campaign.

It never caught fire.

Not attacking Kenney allowed him to ignore her. I asked if she had hit him hard enough.

"No," she replied quickly.

"It's not that I didn't want to. Just when it came down to it, I couldn't. It's just not who I am on the inside. I don't know if with practice you could get better at that."

Looking back, she says, "I was never able to transition to being a 'politician.' I still don't think I am. I think it's like a career and that's not how I feel."

The loss was a surprise. Another was that Fox 29 wanted access to her on Election Day after the polls closed. The press was told election-night coverage at the United Republican Club in Kensington was "by invitation only," which is unusual.

Fox 29 "didn't give two s---s until today," she told me Tuesday night, "and since they didn't cover the campaign," she barred the station.

That was understandable but spiteful. When you volunteer to enter the public arena, you have to accept both snubs and pot shots.

The crazy thing is, "I wouldn't have done this had I not seen some path to victory," Bailey told me. In her life, "there has always been a path to success, there's always been a way, by sheer will and determination, it was able to be done."

Her husband, Sean, told me that "there never was a losing scenario in her mind" and described his plucky wife as "punching well above her weight."

Reality bites, and the truth is that underdogs usually lose.

As she made polling-place stops on Election Day, she heard people say, "I'm a Democrat, but I'm voting for you." Another surprise.

Hours later, at a round banquet table at United Republican, with the sandwiches gone and the supporters drifting toward their cars, she said, "Either people straight-up lied to me, or I just went to polling places where people loved me."

They weren't lying, I said. Most people don't want confrontation and don't have the beans to say to your face that they won't vote for you. During every campaign candidates hear this lullaby, and if it's repeated often enough it begins to sound real.

It usually isn't.

Before the polls closed, I asked Republican City Committee Chairman John Taylor - not politically naive - what it would take for Bailey to exceed expectations.

"She already has," he said. "In all aspects she's an excellent candidate, and her motives were as pure as you can find."

He added that he "would love to see her" get 20 percent or 30 percent of the vote. That was not to be.

The AP called the election for Kenney at 8:25 p.m., which Bailey thought was way too early because "the lady didn't sing" (formerly known as the fat lady), but the TV stations were pushing her for a statement at 9 p.m.

Bailey got up and thanked her political backers, friends, family and volunteers. After she left the stage, I said that was not a concession speech, and she just smiled.

"I never heard one," she said. "I didn't know what it should say."

Then, getting real, she said she had been pressured into making a statement and just didn't feel like conceding.

When I got home late Tuesday night and put on the 11 p.m. news that I had recorded, I saw a Fox 29 microphone attached to the lectern from which Bailey spoke.

Fox 29 got in, for the night's final surprise.

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