About Utah: Politics, childbirth a lot alike, candidate's wife says

Published: Friday, Nov. 12 2010 1:18 a.m. MST

Being a mother of four, Elayne Harmer, in an attempt to describe what she's going through — what they're all going through in California's 11th Congressional District — harkens back to her childbirth days.

"It's like you've reached your due date," she says, "and the doctor walks in and says you've got to wait another three or four weeks."

And then the doc throws in this caveat: "And you might not keep the baby."

Such is life on the campaign trail that refuses to end, which is an apt description of the congressional race between Republican David Harmer, Elayne's husband, and Democrat Jerry McNerney, the incumbent.

Harmer's bid to unseat McNerney, a two-term member of the U.S. House representing portions of Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara and San Joaquin counties, was looking like a done deal on Election Night, when he led by more than a thousand votes with almost all of the precincts reporting. Projections called him the winner. Everyone started addressing him as "Congressman." Volunteers were jumping up and down with joy.

But then, in a seeming defiance of the law of averages, almost all of the remaining votes turned Democrat. By the time all precincts had reported, it was McNerney with the lead — by 121 votes. Out of more than 165,000 ballots.

That's when the focus turned to several thousand provisional and absentee ballots still uncounted, and Harmer-McNerney turned into Bush-Gore.

Ten days later they're still counting. A final verdict isn't expected until Nov. 24 at the earliest, a day before Thanksgiving.

The never-ending race has several Utah connections. Dave Harmer is a BYU graduate whose parents live in Bountiful and who once made a run for Congress in Utah but lost in the 1996 primaries. It was after that loss that he met and married Elayne, who was Elayne Wells back then, a Utahn who once worked as a journalist for the Church News, got her law degree, and was also known as the daughter of LDS Church general authority Robert E. Wells and sister of former Miss America Sharlene Wells.

Those relationships were all good training for this, she says.

"All my life I've been Elder Wells' daughter or Sharlene's sister, now I'm David Harmer's wife. I've been prepared to be in the spotlight and be able to handle the famousness of someone very close to me without it rattling me."

Elayne says watching her sister reign as Miss America in 1985, and her work later as an ESPN analyst, helped her in her role as candidate's wife.

"She always handles things with such grace and humor," she says. "During the campaign, whenever I was asked to do something impromptu, I'd just think, OK, I'll just pretend I'm her. That got me through a lot of situations."

Not that anything's over, of course.

Just this week, the campaign asked Elayne to send a personal e-mail to supporters thanking them for their continued support and contributions.

Among the many things she never thought she'd do was ask for contributions a week and a half after Election Day.

Luckily, she's got everyday life to hang onto.

"The kids' schedules go on," she says — the Harmers are the proud parents of Madison, 14; Jonas, 13; Ariel, 11; and Ben, 9 — "there are still volleyball playoffs, soccer games, so on and so on. You have to get up, make breakfast, make lunches."

And every night, she says, "the kids cheer us up."

The totals change daily. As of Thursday, McNerney's lead was up to 1,681, although the Harmer campaign held out hope that votes from more conservative districts were yet to be counted.

Elayne's fingers remain firmly crossed. She has her favorite.

"I'd much rather be a congressman's wife than a candidate's wife," she says.

Limbo won't last forever. Sooner or later, she's been assured, a victor will be named.

Probably later.

Lee Benson's column runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com

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