Lightening the load

On Election Day, U.S. Post Office letter carrier Troy Lucas hopped back into his delivery truck after dropping off a tub of mail downtown. He said he'd be happy when his shift—and election season—is over.

"I've been carrying mail for over 30 years," Lucas said. "And I've never seen anything like this."

This election season has set records for political spending. Campaigns and outside groups are expected to have shelled out roughly $40 million in the Montana Senate race alone. The U.S. Postal Service is the beneficiary of a healthy chunk of that money. Nationally, during the 2010 election season, political mail brought in roughly $335 million for USPS. It's estimated that campaigns spend as much as 15 percent of their ad budgets on direct mail.

For Missoula's letter carriers, the economic boon translates to hard work. During the week before Election Day, local USPS employees worked 11-hour shifts. They distributed up to nine fliers per mailbox on Friday and Saturday. Sorting glossy fliers, along with the record-breaking number of absentee ballots issued in Missoula County, and then lugging them to their destination, wore on USPS carrier Nancy Hogan. "I was tired," she says.

On Election Day, Hogan, who's petite, blonde and roughly 5 feet tall, lugged two large bags along Orange Street. Entering the home stretch, she said the bags were a bit lighter. Still, a flier featuring a photo of gubernatorial candidate Steve Bullock peeked out from one of her blue bags.

"I can carry a lot," assured Hogan.

But there's little rest for the weary. Hogan says Christmas catalogs will soon fill her satchels.

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