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ISSUE 118 VOL 6 PUBLISHED 10/22/2004

Campaigning gets personal : Workers experience political life on the trail

By Emelie Heltsley
News Editor

Friday, October 22, 2004

As Election Day draws closer, undecided voters receive more phone calls, rallies excite crowds of people, campaign workers canvass neighborhoods and citizens notice prominent political signs everywhere. Though directly affected by campaign outreach, many students do not know what campaign work entails, or realize that their classmates and peers play an active role in campaigning.

Campaign work is popular among college students, and St. Olaf students are no exception. Several students have participated in recent campaigns, including those of the current presidential nominees, and do so for many reasons.

David Fine 06 worked for Howard Deans New Hampshire Primary Campaign last Interim for school credit. He has also worked for the Montana Democratic Party, as well as Get Out The Vote (GOTV), an organization dedicated to registering young voters.

Will Herr '07 worked over the summer for the John Kerry Campaign in Columbus Ohio. "I was just looking for a job," Herr said. He has also worked for the Sierra Club and, another organization which pushes for young voter registration.

Phil Rossing 07 has worked on campaigns since the 2000 presidential election. In South Dakota, he worked for John Thume, Larry Diedrich and George W. Bush. In Minnesota, he has campaigned for State Represenative Ray Cox, Second District Congressman John Kline and President George W. Bush.

Wes Block 05 started an internship with the John Kerry campaign in June. "I was looking for an internship, and thought that I could help the cause," Block said.

Typical student campaign work consists of calling undecided voters, canvassing, posting signs, going door-to-door, working rallies, conducting polls, helping register voters and spreading the word about the candidate.

Fine maintained voter files as part of his campaign work in Montana over the summer.

"First, we identify voters who lean, then concentrate our resources on them," Fine said. I never realized how much work went into identifying voters.

As the Minnesota John Kerry campaign expanded, Block started working in the Sixth Congressional District, and tried to work with as many people as possible. Block helped to open a Kerry office in Faribault, as well as in Northfield, to make the campaign efforts more local. He also worked for the phone bank in Northfield.

While at St. Olaf, Block has helped to coordinate both the Kerry campaign on campus and the College Democrats by posting signs and distributing information.

Rossing has worked at the phone banks and has canvassed neighborhoods as well. He mentioned how his campaign work has also included tabling at football games, both at St. Olaf and Minnesota Vikings games.

In Ohio, Herr worked on a campaign centered around Ohio State University (OSU). Campaign work included spreading information at movie theatres and local concerts, as well as on the OSU campus.

Although campaign workers try to influence the vote of the undecided, their personal political views were only strengthened by their campaign experience.

"It has only solidified my values as a [United States] citizen," Rossing said. It bothers me when people dont care or dont take their rights as citizens seriously.

Herr, a strong Democrat, felt that campaign work reinforced his political beliefs.

Campaign work was full of high points for all workers, including excitement at rallies, meeting political candidates, and the satisfaction coming from convincing an undecided voter to vote for your candidate.

Despite the high points of campaign work, workers realized certain negative aspects about campaigning, which were not evident before working on one.

"I became a lot more familiar with the Democrats," Block said. "They can be disorganized at times, and local campaign work needs to be coordinated."

Reactions from undecided voters can also be less than positive. "You see the bad side of people," Rossing said. "I've been sworn at, spit at and kicked at. You expect more from people."

Block mentioned the difficulty of getting people to do more than vote.

"People support your campaign, but it's hard to get them to volunteer, Block said. He also mentioned the difficulties in working with several strong Northfield personalities throughout his work at the Northfield phone bank.

One of the hardest realities for all campaign workers is the possibility of losing. "The only winning campaign that I have worked on was the first Bush campaign in 2000," Rossing said.

Having faith in political campaigns with uncertain outcomes is trying.

"When [your candidate] loses, it's hard," Fine said. "You're unemployed and they lost."

However, the overall attitude about campaign work is positive.

"There is so much you can do in the political sphere, especially at the local level," Herr said.

Rossing finds it most rewarding when he can change the mind of an undecided voter.

While Block will not join another campaign for a while, he called his internship "a great way to experience politics."

Although work days on the campaign trails can be long, pay can be minimal and losses can be hard, students felt campaign work to be rewarding and worthwhile.

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