Behind the Campaigns
Last Monday, I arrived at the Iowa Democratic Party’s office in Des Moines with the intention to hand out packets of information about the Iowa Youth Caucuses to schools in the Des Moines area. However, when I walked in the door at the front of the pale, cream-colored building and asked for Tamyra, my task for the day suddenly shifted and I got my first taste of caucus outreach work: putting together the packets that were to be delivered later in the week.
Tamyra Harrison, the executive director of the Polk County Democrats, walked me past cubicles and framed portraits of President Barack Obama and into a room with a long table, on which rested boxes of flyers and informational sheets about the Iowa Youth Caucuses. On the wall hung dozens of plaques commending Outstanding Supporters of the Party with black-and-white pictures and engraved dates. For the next hour and a half, another Iowa Caucus Project team member and I counted papers, organized packets and put them in boxes to be delivered to Iowa schools in several counties.
During our stacking and counting, we sat next to staff members eating lunch at the far end of the table. After their meals, one of the men left and returned to the table to make phone calls to possible volunteers. He began each conversation by noting that the individual had volunteered with the Party in the past and asked if they would like to attend Republican events with an audio recorder to hold candidates responsible for their words. This method of volunteer recruitment has been crucial to the success of previous candidates, such as Obama’s win in the 2012 election against Mitt Romney.
In the 2012 election, Obama’s success was arguably owed to the thousands of young volunteers impassioned by his policies, actively seeking new methods of getting voters to the polls. The wide gap in numbers of campaign offices also set the president apart from the Republican nominee, with Obama claiming over 100 Obama’s Organize for America offices compared to Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s 47 offices at the end of October in 2012. Along with crunching statistics and collecting voter data, it is also vital to a campaign that staffers get out into the field and interact with potential voters through millions of knocked doors, phone calls and personal visits.
Though the work may not be glamorous, the largely invisible efforts of campaign staffers and non-partisan groups hold substantial influence in the outcome of races and the issues stressed during campaigns. Harrison said that one of the goals the Party holds is to keep volunteers consistently involved while encouraging those who have not been active in the past to be more energized and participate in the political process. With around 4,000 people on her email list, Harrison also works to encourage campaigns on both sides of the political spectrum to keep the organization updated on volunteer opportunities and the presence of candidates in the community.
Tyler Granger from Crystal Lake, Iowa, also has experience with behind-the-scenes work for political issues and campaigns. Granger previously worked on the Staci Appel campaign and is now a part of a non-profit, non-partisan issue advocacy group entitled America’s Renewable Future. Responsible for attending presidential campaign events, community programs and other potential occasions with attendance by a local audience, Granger and a team of around 30 statewide staff members engage the public and candidates in an effort to promote renewable energy, a cause he notes that all five Democratic candidates support.
Majda Sarkic, ARF’s communications director, also stressed the organization’s bipartisan goals to educate candidates about fuel standards and Iowa’s agricultural economy. With Iowa’s substantial contribution to the production of ethanol in the United States, around 30 percent, the subject is particularly relevant and timely on the campaign trail.
Behind every candidate is a team of staffers who dedicate months of their lives to getting their politician elected. Behind most issues covered on the campaign trail is an organization with members who work tirelessly to get their information recognized. And behind every envelope stuffed, door knocked, and phone called is a volunteer or political staff member passionate about the progress of the nation.