Hitting the Campaign Trail
In 2008, two-thirds of youth voters aged 18-30 voted for Barack Obama. He was a young, energetic candidate that would bring a fresh attitude to the White House. It probably didn’t hurt either that he was the fifth-youngest president in history at the time of his inauguration.
But this election process seems to be telling a slightly different story than four years ago. It isn’t a secret that partisanship is at an all-time high, statistically in Congress and blatantly in the media. This kind of caustic rhetoric discourages many, especially youth, from following the campaigns. The outlook for Obama among this bloc isn’t nearly as promising as 2008 either: young millennials rank “jobs” as their top concern, and the Washington Examiner recently reported that Obama is polling at just under half of the youth vote.
Many young voters are wary of Obama’s economic performance, but aren’t flocking to Romney as a viable alternative, resulting in political apathy among what was in 2008 a much larger group of involved, interested young voters.
Yet while most of the youth backing Obama will show support solely by voting for him, a much smaller group of supporters are so passionate about re-electing the President that their enthusiasm cannot be encapsulated into a penciled bubble. They are campaigning with Obama for America (OFA).
One of these OFA interns was Adrian Vallens (CMC ‘14). Adrian wasn’t working in Chicago, California, or New York – or any area for that matter that was traditionally “blue”. The rural Pennsylvania area he worked in carried only 37% of Obama support in 2008 and 31% for Kerry in 2004.
Because of this demographic, his office was inundated by Obama opposition.
“There was a lot of hostility towards the Democratic Party” he said, recalling verbal harassment and threats.
Though confrontational campaigning was more common than he expected, he easily remembered one of the more humorous, yet revealing, conversations he had.
“I’ll never forget the guy who said he wasn’t voting for Obama because he read somewhere that Oprah wasn’t campaigning for the President,” Vallens recalled. “Therefore, he figured Obama wasn’t doing a good job.”
While disheartened at times, Vallens and his office were persistent in working towards his OFA office’s obvious goal: turning their areas blue. As a fellow, he was in charge of creating and managing different neighborhood and city teams in his office’s area. From 9 a.m.-6 p.m. each day, he met with volunteers from around Lycoming and Tioga counties, and kept track of the progress in the 150,000-person area. Then each night from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m, he and his team made phone calls, often dialing over 150 households each per night. OFA’s strict, efficient hierarchy continually surprised him; each night his progress was quickly reported up until it was reviewed by the team at the Chicago headquarters.
Although he was offered a position to stay with OFA for the fall semester, Vallens is spending this semester in Washington D.C., interning at the watchdog CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington).
“While Pennsylvania is a crucial state, I felt that I learned a lot through my summer experience and I needed to do something new,” said Vallens. “I would be open to working on a campaign in the future…but a four year break will do me some good!”
While Vallens didn’t choose to stay with OFA for the fall semester, another student had been planning on it for a while. Alyssa Roberts, CMC ‘13, says that she has planned to spend this semester working to re-elect the President since was a freshman.
“There’s too much at stake this election to sit on the sidelines!” Roberts said.
She has been working since May as a field organizer in Breckenridge and Frisco, Colorado. She recruits, manages, and trains a team of volunteers that registers voters and gets out the vote for President Obama. She also runs the office.
“At CMC, we study how politics works. It’s not pretty,” said Roberts. “But working with volunteers and voters reminds me why politics is important – elections impact each and every one of us.”
While Vallens and Roberts worked in swing states, CMC senior Sarah Birkenthal worked this summer primarily at the OFA office in New Jersey, a state that has voted democratic since Clinton’s first election.
“I did a lot of outreach with the Jewish and Arab-American communities in New Jersey, which was really interesting,” Birkenthal said. “It was especially eye-opening to use my Arabic in the Syrian-American neighborhoods to discuss the wide range of issues that mattered to them. In these Syrian neighborhoods, no one cared about the state of the economy. They wondered when President Obama was going to start providing support for their families back home.”
Birkenthal stressed that it was these types of interactions that made her experience at OFA worth the hard work.