Last Tuesday night, I was nervous. As part of the Wake the Vote program, I don’t get to choose what candidate or even what party I would be working with next week. With all of the Wake the Vote members around the table, we were about to receive our campaign assignments for the Iowa Caucuses. I could have been with anyone. I looked down at the sheet and there it was; I was assigned to Hillary Clinton.
This assignment was going to be challenging. I had to wrestle with a lot of internal conflicts. How do I volunteer for someone that I don’t support? What is going to keep me motivated to work for her throughout the day? But when we landed in Iowa on Sunday, I was ready to work. I was excited to see the methods that a sophisticated operation like Hillary’s used. I was anticipating being part of a drawn out fight for victory in the first nominating contest in 2016.
My canvassing assignment in the morning did not disappoint. When the four of us who were assigned to Hillary walked into her Urbandale field office, I saw a highly organized, complicated operation. They were extremely organized and had canvassing packets lined up for all the volunteers. As we grabbed our walk-book and stepped out the door, I believed this was a campaign ready for prime time. As my partner Carl, also a Republican, and I went door to door with Hillary, we found a way to work for the opposition. It was interesting to hear the reasons why voters supported Hillary as someone who could never imagine voting for her.
After canvassing, we went to Hillary’s Iowa Headquarters. This place was the nerve center of Clinton’s entire campaign. Her top aide Huma Abdein and campaign manager Robby Mook were there. Upon our arrival we began training for the Hillary Hotline, a call center where caucus captains could report issues and results back to the campaign. We learned that their team had an app that gave tips to their caucus captains on how to pick up extra delegates. This call center combined with their voter data and election strategy made it appear that the Clinton campaign had all of the extra advantages and tools to be able to win the Iowa Caucus.
That evening we were sent from the headquarters to attend a local caucus, and I noticed something very interesting: the line was around the block and full of Bernie supporters, with many caucusing for the first time. We were asked to leave the caucus because there wasn’t enough room for observers. When we arrived at another caucus at a local middle school, Hillary’s side of the gym was just as full as Bernie’s side. After spending the day working hard for Hillary and seeing her campaign in action, I really wondered how Bernie was able to gain so much support. How could he have almost beaten such a sophisticated and professional organization?
During my day as a Democrat, I learned that organization and technology can only carry candidates so far, especially in an election that has intensely focused on issues like income inequality and immigration. What truly matters in 2016 is the ability for candidates to generate enthusiasm around their candidacy. It is most important for people to become true believers in a candidate and feel a passion that rises above the changing political tides rather than choose a candidate because they are the lesser of two evils. I learned that for a politician to be successful, they have to stand for something that draws the electorate into their cause. To Wake the Vote, candidates must meet Americans in their situations and offer them solutions to the crises they face in their every day life. By working for Hillary, I learned what a well-oiled campaign looked like. But by witnessing the passion for Sanders’s candidacy at the caucuses, I realized that a movement is much more effective than a sophisticated operation could ever be.