Without names, phone numbers or any specific sense of direction, I dove into two separate political mazes Tuesday afternoon.
I immediately hit bottom on both fronts.
My quest for face-to-face interviews with Republican presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum has officially commenced without grace.
In multiple phone calls to each candidate’s local office, I didn’t talk to a single human being.
Each time I called, I was greeted by automated machines that would coolly say how nobody was around, but someone would definitely get back to me.
The Romney campaign’s voicemail: “You’ve reached Mitt Romney for President, Ohio office, please leave your name, number and a short message and we’ll get back to you.”
It was early afternoon. A bit odd that the offices would be closed, especially with the Ohio primary just over the hill.
Undeterred, I galloped onward like Don Quixote on his rickety donkey or, in this case, Mowgli on his retired circus elephant.
I tried to visualize the political structure like an upside down pyramid — the lowly volunteers and donations operators easily within reach of someone like myself, a lowly reporter.
But I needed to find an entrance that led somewhere.
I needed something tangible.
I decided to try a bit of trickery in hopes of finding a real, live person, and I knew there was one set of phone lines the politicians would have well-staffed.
I set my sights on the donation lines.
Romney’s staff had already prepared for that assault. They gated the approach with an email interface.
There was no phone number listed.
But Santorum’s donation page listed a hotline right underneath his campaign headquarters address — PO Box 37, Verona, Penn., 15147.
I dialed 1-888-321-6675 and waited.
After six minutes and 12 rounds of, “All of our representatives are currently assisting other callers, thank you for your continued patience,” Santorum’s Christian Donation Center representative picked up the phone.
Her name was Imani Robertson.
Before I could explain my purpose, she asked me if I’d like to make a donation.
I declined and told her who I was, how I’m looking to land an in-person interview with Santorum.
Robertson giggled, then quickly apologized.
I asked where her phones lines are set up.
“We’re at a Christian call center in Virginia,” she said.
She wouldn’t say what city.
“I can’t reveal that, sir,” she said.
Still, she agreed to assist me in my quest, and she filled out a press email inquiry over the phone.
While I could have done the same thing myself on the Internet, it felt a little more valid with a real person helping me out. I answered her questions and she sent out the inquiry.
She asked when I would like to talk to a spokesperson.
“As soon as possible,” I said. “Today would be good.”
“How about next week,” she bartered.
“Just put me down for tomorrow.”
God only knows what she actually entered.
To keep things balanced, I submitted an email inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The silence after pushing the send button made me nervous.