KNOXVILLE, TN–Donald Miller, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate from Tennessee, is dropping out of the race due to his inability to overcome his natural shyness, campaign manager Bruce Gilson announced Tuesday.
"After much contemplation, Donald has decided it would be best if he ended his campaign," said Gilson, speaking to reporters in front of Miller's Knoxville home. "During his run, Donald tried very hard to overcome his discomfort with social situations and his fear of speaking in front of crowds, especially people he doesn't know very well. But in the end, he just couldn't."
"Though he continues to care deeply about the people of Tennessee and the national political discourse," Gilson continued, "Donald has told me to tell you he thinks it would be better if a more confident, outgoing, attractive person represented Tennessee in the U.S. Senate."
Added Gilson: "If you ask me, I think Donald is just being silly. He's a great guy if you get to know him, with a heck of a lot to offer constituents. And I really think he was starting to come out of his shell. But this is Donald's decision, and we need to respect it."
As Gilson spoke, Miller could periodically be seen peeking at the gathered assemblage from behind his living-room curtains. When a photographer noticed him and tried to take his picture, Miller darted away from the window.
Miller, a lawyer who worked in the Tennessee attorney general's office from 1991 to 1997, announced his Senate bid last September at The Hungry Caterpillar, a Knoxville used bookstore he frequents. He was surrounded by campaign staffers, all of whom were either immediate family members or close friends.
"Aside from the occasional stammering and the moment he read the same line twice, I thought he did terrific," said Miller 2000 co-chair Angela DeSoto, a friend of Miller's since their mid-'70s law-school days. "But, of course, he didn't think so. That night, he didn't even want to watch his announcement on the local news, saying that he hates the way his lower lip sticks out when he talks. The next day, when he saw his picture on the front page of the paper, he was mortified. 'I didn't know they were going to put my picture on the cover! I'm sweating, and my nose is bright red. And why did I pick that dumb tie? I look awful,' he said."
Continued DeSoto: "He was the same way when he heard one of his ads on the radio. 'My voice is so whiny and high-pitched,' he said. 'How could anyone take me seriously?' And so on. We'd try to persuade him that people took him seriously, and that he was extremely smart and capable. But the more we tried to convince him, the more he'd doubt it."
Richard Upchurch, a political-science professor at the University of Tennessee, said Miller's shyness clearly damaged his chances in the election.
"It wasn't until two months into his campaign that he finally went out on the road to meet his constituents," Upchurch said. "He said he knew he couldn't get his message out to the people if he just stayed at home, but that's the only place he truly felt at ease."
Miller's actions during campaign stops worsened matters. He frequently concluded speeches with, "Vote for me–I guess." During a visit to a Murfreesboro high school, Miller shuffled his feet and stared at his hands as students attempted to ask him about his stance on various issues, answering questions in a barely audible whisper. While answering a question about abortion, Miller lost his composure and said he had to go to the bathroom to wash his hands. He was missing for more than an hour until it was discovered that he had escaped through a bathroom window and was hiding on the campaign bus.
But despite his bashfulness, Miller was getting through to certain segments of the electorate. According to a poll taken just one week before he dropped out of the race, 75 percent of registered female Democrats favored him.
"He just seemed so sweet and vulnerable," said Liz Oswald of Pulaski. "Everywhere he went, he was always so tongue-tied, you just wanted to wrap him up and put him in your pocket. It's really a shame he dropped out, because Tennessee could use such a sensitive, caring man in Washington."
"Don wasn't some charismatic, smooth-talking slickster, and he sure took his lumps for it," Gilson said. "It takes him a little while to get comfortable with people, and in a 12-month race, there's simply not enough time to do that, especially when you're talking about five million voters. I don't know, maybe if we got him on Paxil."
Later that day, a reporter phoned a housebound Miller and asked if he was considering seeking psychiatric help to combat his shyness.
"I didn't just drop out because of shyness," Miller said. "I mean, that was one part of it, but there were other things, too. I think my cats missed me, and the leaves were starting to fall off my aralia plant. I think people sometimes make too much of my shyness. I mean, not to contradict Bruce, who's been really good to me–he did make that speech for me this morning, and I told him what to say–it's just that, well, it's hard to explain. I…"
Miller's voice trailed off and, after approximately 10 seconds of silence, he hung up.