Last semester Professor Phil Klinkner's Government 223 class studied the political dynamics of the presidential nomination process, paying special attention to the 2016 election cycle. They were able to earn a half credit by volunteering on a presidential campaign over their winter break. Mike Verostek ’16 offers this view of Hillary Clinton’s campaign in New Hampshire. Last week Brian Ferrell ‘16 shared his experiences on the Jeb Bush campaign in Iowa.
It's the bottom of the ninth in the World Series. The bases are loaded and you're up to bat. The pressure is on, but it's up to you to win the game for your team.
That is the how one campaign organizer described to me how he and his colleagues feel in the weeks leading up to February 9, the day of the New Hampshire presidential primary. While this description may seem like an exaggeration, after experiencing the excitement and sense of urgency that accompany campaign fieldwork for myself, I am certain that his World Series metaphor is appropriate.
For the past month, campaign staffers and volunteers have worked around the clock knocking on doors and making phone calls to potential voters in a last ditch effort to gain the votes that could swing the primary election in favor of their candidate. This feeling of urgency has been amplified for volunteers campaigning in the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary in which former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders are neck and neck. This was the political fray that I entered over winter break when I joined the Hillary Clinton campaign in Nashua, N.H.
The first several days on the campaign trail were a trial by fire. I arrived on a Friday, and the campaign organizers responsible for overseeing incoming volunteers would typically have held a formal training to welcome me. Yet with their most important event of the election cycle happening just three days following my arrival in Nashua, there was no time for training. Instead, I was immediately stationed on the phone bank and instructed to call potential voters and inform them that former President Bill Clinton would be coming to speak at Nashua Community College.
On a chilly Monday morning, I arrived early at Nashua Community College where the Bill Clinton event was being held. I was accompanied by the three volunteers that I would spend most of my time with that week. Passing several secret service agents on the way into the venue, we met with our organizers to receive our assignments for the day. I was an usher at the event, which allowed me to interact with nearly all of the 720 attendees. Clinton’s speech did not disappoint the eager crowd, and the former President even waded into the sea of voters to sign autographs.
Following the event, campaign activities returned to normal, and I quickly settled into a daily routine. Every day, the other volunteers and I reported to the campaign headquarters on Main Street at 11:30 a.m. sharp to retrieve our canvassing assignments. I was the only volunteer in my team who had a vehicle, and found that navigating the streets of Nashua would quickly become second nature as I frequently traveled to transport other volunteers from their host families to the headquarters, as well as between their canvassing assignments. All of this had to be done as quickly as possible because we were given a quota to reach each day.
Being able to talk to voters while canvassing was immensely rewarding. Having the opportunity to gauge the political climate of a state that can completely alter the face of this election was a unique experience that a classroom lecture could not have replicated. Between having voters shut their door in disgust at the mere sight of my pamphlets, yet talking to other voters for over half an hour regarding the intricacies of New Hampshire politics, I encountered a wide variety of personalities and opinions on the campaign trail.
Canvassing different neighborhoods around Nashua, Amherst and Merrimack consumed most of my days, and rightly so, since talking to voters face-to-face yields far more positive interactions than merely calling. Still, volunteers worked phone banks late into the night reminding voters to get out to the polls on February 9. Campaign organizers and volunteers alike knew that as the day of the primary inched closer, every second became more valuable.
I left the Hillary Clinton campaign to return to school following nine days of volunteering. The campaign’s intensity was already high while I was there, and I am sure it will only increase as Election Day draws near. At that point, it will become clear who hit a home run in the bottom of the ninth, and who cracked under the pressure.