Anthony Bonna (MSB ’09) met Mike Huckabee a few years ago, back when the former Arkansas governor was better known for his rapid slim-down than his underdog victory in the Iowa caucuses. Bonna attended the event where Huckabee first announced his candidacy.
“It was a very small circle then,” Bonna said. “You got to know everyone.”
After deciding to support Huckabee, Bonna wrote an outline detailing why he believed Huckabee was the strongest Republican candidate for the 2008 presidential nomination, focusing on his solid Christianity and leadership experience. That outline became the framework for the cover story of the July/August 2007 issue of New Man, a magazine geared toward Christian men. The article was Huckabee’s first major endorsement and was featured on his campaign website’s front page for about a month.
Bonna is one of many Georgetown students working to help get their candidate of choice into the Oval Office in 2008. Though student groups on campus support particular candidates, the University’s refusal to officially recognize or fund these partisan organizations limits their effectiveness. For many Georgetown students, the most meaningful political work is being done in battleground primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire.
“Instead of sitting around having philosophical discussions that aren’t going to convince anyone, go out and work for what you believe in,” Bonna said. For his party, Bonna is taking the semester off to work as the deputy campaign manager for Gayle Harrell, a republican running against Rep. Tim Mahoney (D-Fla.).
In states like Iowa and New Hampshire, with small populations and influential early primaries, personal contact is essential. For student activists, this meant a lot of canvassing door-to-door and working phone banks, tactics that come with their fair share of frustrations.
“One guy just saw us through the screen door and said ‘keep on walking,’” Andrew Levine (COL ’11), who campaigned for Obama in New Hampshire, said. “You get some doors slammed [in your face].”
When not coping with rebuffs from unsympathetic local residents, students handled the more humbling and mundane aspects of the campaigns: taking out the trash, shredding paper and collecting voter signatures to get their candidates on the ballot.
Elizabeth Niles (COL ’09), co-President of Georgetown for Giuliani, helped rack up the 10,000 signatures from Virginia voters necessary to get Rudy on the ballot there.
“It’s kind of [an] archaic way to determine ballots,” Niles said. “When you sign the ballot access petitions you’re not committing to voting for the candidate.”
For many students, love of politics ultimately outweighs the frustration. According to James Kotecki (SFS ’07), who was in Iowa and New Hampshire as host of Politico.com’s PlaybookTV, young people, who are best equipped to deal with the fast pace and high stress level of the campaigns, do the majority of the work. Luckily, campaigning isn’t all thankless drudgery.
“[Even if Edwards loses] I’ll feel not that I’ve wasted my time but that I’ve invested it wisely,” Evan Regan-Levine (COL ’11), who made calls to Iowan union members before the caucuses, said. “It’s still something I can be proud of.”
For Niles, though, working on the campaign has reinforced her perception of the younger generation as largely apathetic. In her opinion, the situation has been exacerbated by the scandals of the past couple years and mistakes the Republican Party has made in addressing young voters. Niles lamented that many candidates don’t bother campaigning for young voters since they are “not worth the time or money.”
But Matt Appenfeller (COL ’08) disagreed with Niles’s assessment of the situation.
“That’s totally a media frame that’s been placed unfairly,” Appenfeller, who went to Iowa with Rock the Vote, a non-partisan organization that encourages young people to be politically active, said.
And for many young campaigners, seeing their contemporaries becoming politically engaged is encouraging—even if they’re working for the competition.
“It’s great to see younger people getting involved and challenging those stereotypes that have been out there for a long time,” Bonna said. “I love it when I see people who are getting involved and fighting for what they believe—no matter what that is.”
Georgetown professor and Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne saw the Iowa caucuses-in which the percentage of Democratic voters under 30 equaled the percentage over 65, and the youth vote provided Obama with an unexpected win-as part of a greater trend toward increased youth involvement.
“This doesn’t look like a quiet, disengaged generation,” Dionne said.
Committment and a genuine belief in the candidates message is what gets young activists through the long days of tedious tasks and slammed doors.
“[Campaigning] is something you have to be passionate about. It’s a love-hate relationship—you just have to love it more than you hate it.”
—Additional reporting by Pierre Thompson