A political earworm: Jo Comerford’s jingle to help write-in campaign, other candidates react

  • Jo Comerford and Nerissa Nields hug after singing the jingle the Nields created for Comerford's campaign. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jo Comerford and Nerissa Nields laugh after singing the jingle the Nields created for Comerford's campaign. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jo Comerford and Nerissa Nields sing the jingle the Nields created for Comerford's campaign. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jo Comerford and Nerissa Nields laugh after singing the jingle the Nields created for Comerford's campaign. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Nerissa Nields and Jo Comerford sing the jingle the Nields created for Comerford's campaign. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Nerissa Nields sings the jingle the Nields created for Jo Comerford's campaign. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jo Comerford, a write-in candidate in the Democratic primary for the area’s state Senate seat, listens as Nerissa Nields talks about the jingle the Nields created for Comerford’s campaign. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jo Comerford listens as Nerissa Nields talks about the jingle The Nields created for Comerford's campaign. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jo Comerford listens as Nerissa Nields talks about the jingle The Nields created for Comerford's campaign. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Published: 8/8/2018 11:24:02 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Nerissa Nields is known around the Valley as part of the folk-rock group the Nields, but to Jo Comerford she is also a close friend. So when Comerford decided to commission a jingle for her write-in campaign for the Democratic nomination in the Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester state Senate district, there was no question who she would enlist.

“I knew I had a friend in Nerissa who I could call,” said Comerford, who’s also a longtime fan of the band.

“I was a groupie before I was a friend,” she said.

The jingle, which carefully spells out Comerford’s name, letter by letter, is notable as both a promotional device that tells voters to “Go with Jo” and as an educational tool instructing voters how to cast a write-in vote for her.

Comerford noted the challenge of being a write-in candidate in an interview with the Gazette on Wednesday. “It’s no joke. It’s an uphill battle,” she said.

The only candidate for the Senate seat on the Sept. 4 Democratic primary ballot is Chelsea Kline, of Northampton. There are two other write-in candidates from Northampton, City Council President Ryan O’Donnell and Steven Connor.

O’Donnell: ‘Write in Ryan’

O’Donnell, while acknowledging that the write-in issue will be a factor in the race, didn’t seem bothered by it when interviewed Wednesday. O’Donnell said he tries to educate people about writing in his name on the ballot as he goes door to door. “They’re not really flummoxed by it,” he said.

O’Donnell said he hasn’t heard Comerford’s jingle yet, and that he doesn’t plan on putting out one of his own. “‘Write in Ryan,’ ” said O’Donnell, giving his campaign slogan. “That’s as close as I get to a jingle.”

As for Comerford’s jingle, it is a kid-friendly folk song that features the voices of Nields, her sister, Katryna, and children of both sisters, as well as musical contributions from Katryna’s husband, Dave Chalfant, also a member of the Nields.

“If you want a fearless fighter, go with Jo, go with Jo,” goes the song, which plays in a video over clips from Comerford’s campaign. The video has received more than 2,400 views on Facebook since Aug. 2. “There’s no candidate who’s brighter, go with Jo, go with Jo.”

While the Comerford campaign has come up with other write-in education efforts, such as an instructional video showing people how to cast a write-in, the candidate noted that “art transcends.”

“There’s a German term that is translated as ‘earworm,’ ” said Nerissa Nields, referring to the common phrase for a catchy tune. “You want to create a little worm that gets in your ear, in your brain, so that you’re constantly thinking about it.”

She said this concept also applies to a write-in campaign for Senate.

“There’s really no more efficient way of conveying that information than through a jingle,” said Nields.

In Massachusetts, the standard for counting a write-in vote is a voter’s intent, meaning that as long as it is clear who the voter intended to write in, that vote will be counted, even if the candidate’s name is misspelled. Voters can also attach stickers provided by campaigns to the proper part of the ballot.

Connor: some anxiety

Connor said Wednesday that, like Comerford, he has some anxiety about the write-in factor. “It’s difficult to get your message out there,” he said.

Connor, who is balancing running for office with working as the director of Central Hampshire Veterans’ Services, also had not heard Comerford’s jingle but said that he knew of the “I Like Ike” jingle used by Dwight Eisenhower in his successful 1952 presidential campaign, adding that he has thought about how nobody uses jingles anymore.

“That’s pretty creative. I like it,” he said of Comerford choosing to do her own.

As for coming out with his own tune, Connor said that he isn’t a good singer. What about getting someone else to sing? “Anything is possible,” he said. “In this kind of campaign, sure.”

Nerissa Nields fronts the popular and prolific band bearing the family name with Katryna, and the sisters also play music specifically geared toward children and their families. The Nields have 17 albums, with songs like “Tyrants Always Fall,” “This Town is Wrong,” and “Easy People.”

Nields said that composing Comerford’s jingle was quick and that Comerford contributed a number of ideas for lyrics. “I barely remember it, it was so fast,” Nields said of the writing process.

Nields said that she met Comerford — who until recently was a campaign director at MoveOn.org — when her son, Johnny, and Comerford’s son, Isaiah, were in preschool together. Isaiah and Johnny became friends and have remained so since, with both parents describing the 10-year-olds as being like brothers.

“I think they’ve found a lifelong friend in each other,” said Comerford.

Nields and her husband, David, also became friends with Comerford and her wife, Ann Hennessey. “There is a real meeting of the minds and hearts and souls with the four of us,” Nields said.

Comerford shared her intention to run for office with Nields and her husband prior to announcing it publicly, and they also threw one of the first house parties for Comerford.

Nields also noted that she and her sister have always been politically involved. “It’s in our family to take fearless stands,” said Nields.

Indeed, Nields said that politics is one of the reasons why she moved to western Massachusetts, first to Hatfield in 1993, before relocating to Northampton in 2003, where she now lives right down the street from her sister.

Kline: ‘needs of the district’

Kline, a women’s rights advocate and educator, said she has not focused on whether being the only candidate on the ballot gives her an advantage. “I’m not really thinking about advantage or disadvantage,” said Kline. “I’m thinking about the needs of the district.”

In terms of promotion, Kline pointed to a video her campaign released that has more than 5,000 views on Facebook since July 24 and talks about her background as a single mother who used food stamps and MassHealth.

“There’s not many people with those experiences who have run for office,” she said.

She also said that access to the political process is often thwarted for lower-income people. “We need representation that actually represents this district,” she said.

Kline has musical supporters of her own, as her campaign will be hosting an event featuring musicians performing at The Sierra Grille in Northampton at 9:30 p.m. Thursday. Another event will take place Sunday at 10 a.m. at Spirit of the Heart Martial Arts and Wellness in Northampton, featuring music by Felicia Sloin and kids’ yoga by Lizzie Tyler Majka.

Kline also said she hadn’t yet heard Comerford’s jingle. Asked if she has any intention of releasing a song of her own, she said that she is more focused on events and talking to voters.

Comerford’s jingle isn’t the first of its kind to make an appearance in western Massachusetts politics. In one of his campaigns, former U.S. Rep. John Olver, D-Amherst, released a locally flavored take on Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere.”

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.

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