Tales from the Campaign Trail

Tales from the Campaign Trail
ith support from the President's Office for transportation, a bi-partisan group of students spent part of their winter break campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire - and writing about it.
 
Anne Kolker '08 is the Pennsylvania State Director for Students for Barack Obama. 

"I've been working with Senator Obama in various ways since last January. But the campaign became an integral part of my life this past October when I was made the Pennsylvania State Director for Students for Barack Obama, which was also when I booked my ticket to Indianola, Iowa, for caucus week, leaving the day after Christmas. This would be my first trip to Iowa, and my first primary campaign experience. So, with thermal layers, snow boots, and a passion for Barack, I headed to Iowa.

"Each day, all the volunteers had two shifts of voter contact - our shorthand for knocking on doors or making phone calls to voters and asking for their support at the caucuses. Then we all made phone calls until after dinner, and rounded out the day with a few hours in front of the computer entering data we'd collected. Fifteen hours of work later, it felt a lot like I was back at school. Much to my surprise, data entry was not as much of a dreaded task as it had been in the past. I guess a semester at Swarthmore left me hungry for some brainless work! In fact, our little group of volunteers welcomed in the new year with a delicious dinner provided by some of our supporters, an all-campaign conference call, and furious data entry 'til the wee hours."

Anne Kolker '08
political science and theater
Copenhagen, Denmark/Washington, D.C.
akolker1@swarthmore.edu

Like many volunteers, Justin Shaffer '08 spent much of his time on the phone, interrupted by the occasional 300-mile drive.

Fri., Dec. 28

I arrived at Mitt Romney's Des Moines office at 5a.m. to begin what was estimated to be a 12 and a half hour drive to 13 different places. Even better, it had snowed the night before.

Most of the county chairs were not home, but one who was actually asked for my help in putting up a billboard sign on his lawn facing the highway. Spending a few moments with a supporter was a fun break to my hundreds of miles of driving. Ironically, his next door neighbor - his brother-in-law - had a Huckabee sign up. We were merely evening the score! So 700 or 800 miles later, getting lost a dozen times, we arrived back at Headquarters at 12:30 am.

Sun., Dec. 30

Although, Sunday is supposed be a day of rest, we continued phone banking from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Especially this late in the game, political campaigns are vacuums of time. My new favorite way of telling time is closing the shades when the sun sets.

Mon., Dec. 31

Continued phone banking, but courtesy of New Year's Eve, we ended calls at 6 p.m. We had an "off the record" party with staff in West Des Moines. In honor, I will keep our merriment "off the record".

Wed., Jan. 2

More and more calls in the morning. In the afternoon, I had to drive to Dubuque, over 300 miles away on the Wisconsin border, to deliver some additional material for a campaign event. Again, more and more silos to drive pass. Later, the campaign had an election eve rally in West Des Moines. The room was packed with about 1,000 supporters and volunteers - and about 3 dozen news cameras.

You'd think we would go home and get halfway decent sleep for tomorrow. Guess again. Along with a group of staffers, we had to pick up some additional rental cars at the airport.

This trip started an entire evening of its own. Our driver missed the exit to the airport and by the time we made it there, we had run out of gas! So my friends literally ran to the gas station to pick up a gallon of gas and got a ride back to our car from a patron. It was now 10 to midnight, when Hertz closes. Through some begging and pleading, we were able to get them to hang around for a few minutes. So armed with some more rental cars we arrived back "home" at one in the morning

Thurs., Jan. 3

"Our office is a complete freakshow. We had anti-war protesters outside our office, along with hundreds of volunteers, news reporters, finance chairpersons, etc. Given this scene, I assumed the role of doorman/security guard for the day. In the end, I was pretty much a liaison to the media, including reporters from The Economist, ABC World News, Al-Jazeera, the BBC, and a half dozen local news affiliates.

"As the results came in, there was little to do other than watch. Fox News began to call the race at about 7:45 our time. The room quickly became silent, and it honestly felt like a funeral home. CNN and other soon followed calling the race showing a clear lead. It's a long race and I am heading to Manchester, NH in the early morning. After Romney's election night speech, we had the unceremonious task of returning the rental cars to the airport."

Justin Shaffer '08
sociology/anthropology
Searingtown, NY
jshaffer1@swarthmore.edu

Jon Erwin-Frank '11 (left) striving for "visibility" in downtown Nashua.

Thurs., Jan. 3

"I just got back from watching the results of the Iowa caucuses at the diner next to Obama campaign headquarters here in Nashua, New Hampshire. We screamed, hugged, high fived, and then got right back to work.

After meeting with my coordinator, I headed back to the house where I'm staying and watched the candidate speeches with the other interns. That speech gave me shivers and made me remember what first captured my attention about Obama. He inspires. Obama has been attacked for running on blind optimism, but what I really like about Obama is the substance he puts behind the word hope. He makes it seem real, tangible, and backs it up with an authentic commitment to promoting service; to creating a society in which every individual joins in an effort to serve the United States. That speech made me remember why I went canvassing in the freezing cold until I couldn't feel my fingers and toes.

We didn't actually finish all the houses on our list either today or yesterday. We just kept going until we got too cold to possibly continue and then drove back to headquarters to thaw before making calls or doing another kind of inside work. I've gotta go to bed now and get some sleep before waking up at 5 a.m. for visibility (standing out in the cold with signs in "downtown" Nashua) We've gotta show our support on the first day that New Hampshire takes over the spotlight. After that, all the interns are separating and moving to their staging locations to help coordinate, train volunteers, and, of course, go door to door.

Jon Erwin-Frank '11
Chinese or political science
Whitefish Bay, Wis.
jerwinf1@swarthmore.edu

Campaign signs are a staple of the New Hampshire landscape during primary season.

Fri., Jan. 4

"I had been up most of the night on a red eye flight when I got to Manchester, NH. The first thing I felt when I got off the plane was the cold air leaking into the jetway from the frigid runway. I inhaled a cheap cup of airport coffee as I waited outside the baggage claim for the bus to take me downtown.

"As I made my way over snowbanks almost as tall as I am to John Edwards' NH headquarters, I encountered the full range of the mixture of political parade, horserace, and circus that is New Hampshire every four years. A mob of Ron Paul supporters paraded past me chanting "Ron Paul revolution! Give us back our constitution!" A woman, I think a broadcast journalist, gave me directions to a good local coffee shop. It was only the afternoon after Obama's victory in Iowa, but the national TV trailers had already swarmed onto the streets and parking lots.

"I arrived at the Edwards headquarters and got in touch with my contact in the campaign, an organizer in Derry named Jeremiah. In about an hour, Jeremiah and a friend of his picked me up in his tiny two-door car. Before leaving Manchester for Derry, we stopped at a diner famous as a political setting - labels with the names of Al Gore, John McCain, Chuck Norris, and Bill Bradley were mounted on the booth seats where each had sat. It turned out Jeremiah was being transferred to Portsmouth and I was dropped off at the field office in Derry exhausted and knowing no one. But I was warmly welcomed by the field organizers there and after a few hours of phone banking, got a ride with another volunteer to the home of the local Edwards volunteer who had offered to house me."

Daniel Leigh '09
Honors religion and economics
Portland, Ore.
dleigh1@swarthmore.edu

From left, Charlie Decker '09 and Ben Raphel '09 talk with Michelle Obama during one of her campaign stops.

Sat., Jan. 5

Last night, I picked up Charlie Decker '09, who is staying with me for the next few days and also campaigning for Senator Obama. This morning, we drove into Littleton to do our first door-to-door canvassing. At the office, we received our "walk list," a list of registered Democrats and Independents, along with their indicated support for Obama. For example, a "2" meant they had already indicated that they would vote for Obama, a "3L" meant they were leaning towards him, a "3" was undecided, and a "4" meant they were supporting another candidate. We encountered a few interesting characters that morning, including an undecided 84-year-old man who talked to us about everything from his service in the Air Force to how he's never owned a television set and would listen to tonight's debates on the radio. Another woman, when asked whom she supported, told us, "I'm voting for Hillary. We all are." I didn't realize at the time how prescient her statement was.

Ben Raphel '09
Honors political science and history
St. Johnsbury, Vt.
braphel1@swarthmore.edu

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