Tufts Junior, Alexander Demircan poses for a portrait in front of Goddard Chapel. Vintus Okonkwo / The Tufts Daily

Students gain insight, get politically active by working on state, national campaigns

As American politics have evolved, political campaigns have become larger and more expensive. One aspect of campaigns that has expanded is the network of staffers, fellows and volunteers. According to a Dec. 31, 2015 Politico article, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign employed around 89,000 volunteers. This form of political participation is very present among Tufts undergraduates.

Junior Jaya Khetarpal worked in Clinton‘s presidential campaign from the fall of 2015. She heard of the opportunity from her volunteering stint with Generation Citizen, an organization that sends college students into middle and high school classrooms to teach the importance of civic engagement and democratic participation.

“[Clinton] had been a personal hero of mine for a long time … Working with a state that is so contested at times — New Hampshire — I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to continue my involvement with politics,” Khetarpal said.

Khetarpal’s key responsibility within the campaign was to attract college students in New Hampshire to vote and become more politically involved.

Olivia Brandon, a first-year, also worked with the Clinton campaign in both New Hampshire and Pennsylvania to get out the vote.

“In the summer of 2016, my focus was on building my congressional district, which was a lot of … organizing volunteers, running phone banks and getting the word out in New Hampshire, which was one of our main targets,” she said. “In the fall, I went back to boarding school in New Jersey where I worked out of the Princeton field office, primarily recruiting people from Pennsylvania by phone banking and canvassing the suburbs of Philadelphia.”

Prior to this national campaign, Khetarpal became involved in her first political campaign in her junior year of high school for Wendy Davis, a former Texas state senator and the Democratic candidate for governor at the time. Similarly, Brandon had joined her town’s Democratic committee in high school to immerse herself in the intricacies of local politics.

“I started some work with local state senate and state house campaigns … Once I did that, I heard that the [Clinton] campaign had hired a state director in Connecticut, which is where I am from,” Brandon said. “They were trying to build the campaign within my own state and so once I heard that they wanted more people involved … I got connected.”

Alex Demircan has also interned at various campaigns in Connecticut, including Republican candidate Lorraine Marchetti’s campaign for the state senate’s fourth district and a local board of education campaign. However, he has not worked on any national campaigns.

Everything has been significantly more local, which has given me the opportunity to learn about the inner workings of the campaign itself and even get to know the candidate himself better,” Demircana junior, said. 

Demircan compared local elections to small businesses and spoke of the specific benefits that small campaigns bring to college students who are interested in politics.

“As a summer intern, I sat at candidates meetings with ten people at them and that would never be possible if I was working on a larger campaign, so there really are benefits to each,” he said. “As someone in college, a comprehensive understanding of what the processes are like is really important. I would feel more comfortable in the future running myself.”

Both Khetarpal and Brandon are currently working in the gubernatorial campaign of Democrat Setti Warren. Khetarpal noted that just as with her work on the Clinton campaign, her efforts now are also focused on reaching out to individual voters.

On the other hand, Brandon said that the smaller size of Warren’s campaign allowed her to take on more local responsibilities, compared to her work on the Clinton campaign.

“I have a turf, I have an area of the state that I am responsible for,” Brandon said. “We have around 600 towns and wards across the state, and each has a caucus who will elect delegates to go to the convention in June.

Demircan emphasized the importance of more personal and targeted outreach to voters, from his experience working on local campaigns.

“There is a lot of town passion in New England states,” Demircan said. “Strong communities do exist. There is a definite benefit in the approach that if you get one person involved, there is a good chance that the passion will spill over to the people around them. People often overlook the lawn sign. However, in many places, it does matter.”

Demircan explained how this strategy played out in his work for the campaign, which focused on a battleground district with an even split in political allegiances among voters.

“In the state senate campaign, there were four towns within the district,” Demircan said. “My town [Glastonbury] was a big red town, there were two other small red towns and there was one bigger blue town, which evened out political allegiance 50–50 amongst the voters. This one town carried so much weight, and a focus needed to be put on it because it was in the position of swaying the results.”

Like Brandon and Khetarpal, first-year Isabell Creed also works for Warren’s campaign. She became involved in the campaign after speaking with John Walsh, former chair of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, at an event sponsored by the Tufts Democrats last October.

“[Walsh] told me … ‘As a rule of thumb … if you work on a campaign, and they do not know your name within two weeks then you are a throw away. Make sure they value the work that you are doing,’” Creed said. “After I heard that, I thought, I want to work for him. A week later, I called him, and he said come in.”

Creed explained that she has always really cared about politics, but now more than ever it is extremely important to involve oneself and be active.

“As college students, we have a lot of time. We have the ability to get involved in a way that full-time workers do not,” Creed said. “Also, as we are seeing now that many of the current policies in place and in the works have the ability to affect a lot of people very negatively and very quickly … There are only so many ways that I can stand up against the Trump agenda on a federal level, but governors have a lot of power and those are the people that become the next presidents.”

Demircan remarked that his time on political campaigns has sparked his own desire for a potential future in politics.

“These are normal people who are running. They are local community members who have jobs and families,” Demircan said. “They are not like the celebrity figures that you see on TV. They are just normal people with a passion for getting involved in their communities. Anyone can do it.”

Emily Thompson contributed reporting to this article.

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