Working on a campaign proves to be life-changing

Working+on+a+campaign+proves+to+be+life-changing

Photo by Erin Cowan

By Bridget O'Toole, Round Table reporter

Over the course of four months, I worked on a political campaign and it was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. The campaign taught me many incredible things and also allowed me to make many great connections and friends.

The first time I ever heard about Kathleen Matthews’ Campaign for Congress, my heart skipped a beat. I was looking for a new hobby to take up and realized my interest in politics could be translated into a campaign.

As I looked into the campaign, I realized it was the perfect opportunity. Matthews had the same political affiliation that I did, was a former successful journalist and was a woman. In being a woman, she really inspired me to intern for the campaign because I believe that women need to be represented just as equally as men in Congress.

Applying for the internship was stressful but easy at the same time. I knew what I wanted and I went for it. I had to submit an application where I answered a few questions and then waited for a call.

In early January I received a call from a field director on the campaign. He said they were interested in me for the internship. A week later I traveled an hour to Bethesda, Maryland. The entire trip down I had butterflies in my chest; this was my shot and I was incredibly uneasy knowing it all came down to the interview.

I traveled up an elevator eight stories and walked into office number 5B. It was easy to identify because homemade colorful posters were hung on the door, each with its own unique touch.

I was greeted by every person with a smile when I entered the office. It was full of laptops and plastic tables and chairs, being used as makeshift desks. The room was full of volunteers calling constituents in hopes of winning over their votes.

Lee Gochman, a field organizer, pulled me aside for the interview. He asked me basic questions about why I wanted to work on the campaign and the skills I had that could be of value. I answered the questions perfectly, showing the excruciating amount of preparation for the interview had paid off.

After the interview was over, Gochman began talking about the campaign and the way in which it was organized in order to guarantee success. He said I could be a valuable asset since I would be the only intern from Frederick, an underrepresented part of the district Matthews would represent if elected, and he offered me the internship.

I set up a schedule to come in every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Wednesday I would drive to the campaign headquarters in Bethesda right after school and make calls for about three hours. Friday I would go to headquarters for about an hour for campaign school, a class for the interns where field directors and organizers taught us about all of the different aspects of campaigns. Saturday and Sunday I would go to Bethesda all day and walk door to door through different neighborhoods in order to make face-to-face contact with voters.

My first weekend was challenging; I was in training for about 10 minutes where they described how to go about knocking on constituent’s doors and what to say. They gave me a script, a lot of literature (a trifold of basic information about Matthews and her platform) and sent me on my way.

A car dropped me off in a very wealthy neighborhood of Bethesda. Lucky for me I was only going to the doors of Democrats since it was the primary and Matthews only needed to be vying for votes of those in the party she would be representing. I thought I wouldn’t face that much backlash against Matthews since all of the candidates had a similar platform from their party, but I thought wrong.

Most of the knocks on the doors were unanswered, but I was nervous. I wasn’t used to talking to people on the spot, face to face, especially when those people didn’t want to talk. The first person that answered the door screamed at me after I had simply said I was an intern for Matthews. They told me she was a crook and that they supported her biggest competitor, Jamie Raskin, and sent me on my way.

I didn’t let that door get me down and continued to knock on door after door. A few people answered and told me they were supporting Matthews, some told me politely that they were supporting another candidate and most said they were undecided. It was my job to convince them otherwise; I said my spiel and most said they’d consider her.

The doors that I would knock on were decided through a computer program based upon the person’s likeliness to vote in a primary, as well as their political affiliation. These people were then broken down into groups based upon proximity and were given to me in a packet. After I visited each house, I’d check in the packet whether they were not home, supporting Matthews, undecided or supporting another candidate.

Once I was done, I called a fellow intern who drove to come pick me up and we went back to the office. When I got back, I had to enter the data I collected into the computer program so we could keep track of who I had talked to and who was supporting Matthews. It took a couple of minutes, then I said my goodbyes and went home.

The following Monday, my legs and feet felt as if they’d gone through the ringer. I wasn’t used to being on my feet for such long periods of time without much rest for two days in a row.

As the weeks went by, I continued to travel to Bethesda and learn new things. I perfected the way I translated Matthews’ message to voters and became confident in the way I said it.

While going door to door is effective in reaching out to voters, calling them is much more efficient. Every once in a while I was assigned to calls over the weekend instead of canvassing. Eventually, one weekened, I broke the campaign’s all-time high for calls completed in one day, making 457 calls.

After I became comfortable in the office and with those working in it, I started to develop friendships. The group of interns started becoming a family. Most were in college and I was one of three high-schoolers, but being on the campaign with a common goal helped us to relate to each other very easily. We exchanged numbers and I soon became very close with one of the high-schoolers.

I not only developed relationships with the interns but also with the field organizers and Matthews herself. The field organizers were in charge of a group of interns and my FO was Eli Yussuf, a recent graduate of Vanderbilt hoping to get into politics. He was extremely funny, relatable and incredibly easy to carry on a conversation with.

I was very friendly with the other FO’s but Yussuf especially. I also formed a friendly relationship with Matthews. Ironically, on my first day of working on the campaign she had been going door to door in Myersville, where I live, to reach out to voters in Frederick. She knocked on my door and my parents answered, told her I was in Bethesda interning for her on my first day and that I was very interested in politics and journalism just as she was. She said that I could talk to her anytime about journalism and how she was able to make it big.

The next time I saw her we chatted about journalism and politics, and currently she is helping me make connections with different organizations I can intern for next.

At the midpoint of my working on the campaign, I got a stress fracture in my foot. I hadn’t been wearing the best shoes to walk in because it was hard to find shoes that were not only professional for an internship but also supportive to walk around in all day. I was confined to making calls all day every time I came in to work.

Staying back in the office allowed me to make multitudes of valuable connections with the FO’s and form friendships with my fellow interns. The campaign had many inside jokes and loved to poke fun at the other candidates. Eventually we even had an intern group chat where we talked constantly.

As the campaign closed in on its final weeks, it entered GOTV (Get Out The Vote) which is the most stressful part of the whole process. GOTV is a strategy enacted in the final weeks of a campaign where the strategy to reach voters changes. In GOTV, you stop reaching out to undecided voters and voters who are leaning toward other candidates and only talk to voters who are leaning toward Matthews or have fully committed their vote to her.

During GOTV, it was extremely important that I set up plans with voters about their voting for Matthews and when they were doing so. I also started attending more forums and debates during GOTV. These forums became more and more important as the election drew closer because a lot of voters don’t pay attention to elections, especially primarys, until the final weeks.

The forums were extremely informative and interesting. Not only did I get to watch them, but I also got to walk around with Matthews and hand out literature after she talked with constituents and those hosting the events. I was introduced to the deans of colleges and made a few connections just through going to the forums.

As the election drew to a close, I started going to the office more and more. In the last two weeks before Election Day, I went to the office every day of the week. Tension in the office began to rise, as everyone was excited and nervous for the outcome. The polls we did had a large margin of error, but they showed that Matthews was behind Raskin by only one or two points, and our other competitor, Trone, was trailing by about five points.

The campaign knew that if we could get a high voter turnout for Matthews, then she could win the election.

The day of the election, April 21, I went to Kensington, Maryland, to man a poll for the entire day. Every volunteer, intern and even Matthews manned polling locations in the hopes of convincing even one voter coming undecided.

I talked to many voters, gave them some literature about Matthews and hoped that I had convinced a few. At this point I truly wanted her to win.

I came into the election unsure if Matthews was even the right choice for the position; I just knew I wanted to work for a campaign. Over the course of the election, as I learned more about Matthews and the issues she stood for, I grew to believe whole-heartedly that Matthews was the best person for the job.

As I sat at the polling location for my last day on the job I realized how much this election mattered to me, and how much I wanted Matthews to win. Not only was I passionate about her stance on issues, but I was also passionate about women’s issues and women in politics.

Unfortunately, as the day drew to a close and the polls started coming in, we found that the polls our campaign had taken weren’t correct. In the end, Matthews came in third, behind Trone and Raskin.

Matthews lost because of Trone’s late entry into the race. Matthews and Raskin were candidates for over six months, when out of nowhere a billionaire, Trone, came in and spent the most money any candidate has ever spent of a Congressional campaign.

If Trone hadn’t entered the race, then Matthews surely would’ve won because Raskin had a solid base that didn’t gain many voters over the course of the election. All that supported Raskin were supporting him from the beginning, but Matthews’ base of voters grew and grew over the course of the election. When Trone entered the election, he didn’t take any voters from Raskin because his base was so solid, but instead he stole Matthews’ voters because they weren’t as set on her.

In the end, although we lost, Matthews hosted a barbeque at her house to thank everyone that had helped her throughout the campaign. I was incredibly lucky to have this last hoorah with the interns and to close that chapter of my life.

This campaign opened up my mind and heart to new ideas and passions I didn’t know I could ever have. It helped me develop friendships and connections that are as strong as ever and changed me as a person. Before the campaign I wasn’t as informed and felt as if I didn’t fit in into any one group in school. The campaign made me feel as if I found my place, was finally accepted and that I mattered. To anyone interested in making a difference and doing something new, I highly suggest working on a campaign. It changed my life and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.