Gambier, Ohio may be far from the center of national politics — until Vice Presidential Candidate Tim Kaine drops in for a rally — but, by taking a semester off, some politically-minded students still find their way onto the campaign trail.
Pushing for the Dems
After his first year at Kenyon, Jon Green ’14 interned full-time as a summer fellow for the 2010 reelection campaign of his Virginia Congressman Tom Perriello. Recognizing Green’s interest in politics, his field director offered him a paid position as an organizer, leading Green to take the first semester of this sophomore year off so he could help his candidate through the final months of the campaign.
Green admired Perriello’s perseverance in fighting for the policies he supported, like health insurance reform and regulating the fossil fuel industry — even when it made the congressman unpopular with his majority-Republican district.
“If you’re going to be as sleep-deprived as you’re going to be on a campaign,” Green said, “then you need something above and beyond sharing a political affiliation with your candidate to get you out of bed in the morning.”
As a summer fellow, Green mostly handled voter contact information and volunteer canvassing, but as an official field organizer he was responsible for recruiting and training volunteers for his office’s district in Charlottesville, Va.
Though the election fell just short of a victory for Perriello, Green didn’t allow the loss to frustrate him: He returned to the campaign trail two years later when he took off the first semester of his junior year to work for President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012.
With the Obama campaign, Green began as a field organizer and was later promoted to regional field director for Hampton and Newport News, Va., where he was in charge of hiring, training and managing a group of 20 field organizers.
Green recalled one day when Obama visited his turf twice for a rally. His staff director brought him and a few other volunteers backstage to meet the president, and after the rally Obama returned to Green’s campaign office.
“I didn’t have the presence of mind to remind him that he had sorta-kinda followed me back to my office when he joked that I was following him around,” Green said.
Being on the managing end was challenging and stressful, but Green credits the experience with preparing him for academic success at Kenyon.
“After spending six months working well over full-time seven days a week, three hours of class and a few hours of reading each day became more than manageable,” he said.
Green is pursuing a Ph.D. in Political Science at The Ohio State University, focusing on projects related to student voter turnout and experimental deliberative democracy.
Repping the Republicans
Brooks Alderman ’18, formerly of the class of 2017, does not regret taking off from November through spring time of last year to work for Ohio Governor John Kasich’s presidential campaign. “It was an absolutely incredible experience being involved in the campaign all the way to the end,” he said.
A political science major and a right-of-center moderate Republican, as well as president of the Kenyon Republicans, Alderman shared Kasich’s views on the future of the country, especially on matters of fiscal and foreign policy.
Alderman began as a campaign intern in the Nashua, N.H. office to support the huge canvassing effort for the primary election. He organized volunteers and helped them become familiar with the calling system used to make massive volumes of calls and went door-to-door in the snow to speak with voters. Kasich came in second in the state, behind Republican Presidential Nominee Donald Trump, which Alderman said was “a huge boost of energy for us.”
After their success, the campaign sent Alderman to Massachusetts, where he and another intern worked on Cape Cod while staying with a family in Chatham. Massachusetts was a much smaller operation and much more relaxed. “We’d make phone calls, go out knocking, then come back to their house for lobster rolls,” he said.
After Kasich came in fourth in the Massachusetts primary the campaign whisked Alderman away to Ohio, which was a completely different operation. “Ohio was his state,” he said. “Everyone here knows him — he’s their governor — and we won.” In Ohio, Alderman met many people who were close to the governor at the campaign’s headquarters in Columbus; he even canvassed with the nominee’s sister, Donna Kasich.
Interns rarely interact with a candidate in person, but one day Alderman recalled receiving a phone call from a blocked number while canvassing in N.H. When he answered, it was Kasich on the other end of the line, thanking Alderman for his help on the campaign and advising him to continue his education.
“I think he said, ‘If you don’t go back to college you’ll never be able to run for president,’ which I was totally flabbergasted by,” Alderman said. “It’s not very often that you get called by a presidential candidate, so that was awesome!”
Alderman experienced the other side of the election effort when he was offered a paid position as field director for New Day for America, a Super Political Action Committee (Super PAC), in his home state of Connecticut. Alderman said he prefers the passion and personal connection of the campaign experience over the more business-like operations of the Super PAC. After Kasich suspended his campaign on May 4, Alderman interned with Ohio Senator Rob Portman on Capitol Hill and discovered that his true passion is working in legislation.
“On the campaign side you don’t get to impact the policy at all, and I enjoy much more feeling like I’m directly involved in the decisions that are made in government,” he said.
Alderman added that he wouldn’t rule out working on campaigns again, especially if Kasich decided to run for president again in 2020. “There’s nothing I’d want to see more than him in the Oval Office,” he said.