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Win-Win: With Midterms Around the Corner, Students Hit the Campaign Trail

As a part of a course, students are interning at political campaigns throughout Massachusetts ahead of the 2018 midterm elections
October 30th, 2018 by 
Bobby Tuzzio '20 stands at the counter for the Worcester Election Commission at Worcester City Hall.

Knocking on prospective voters’ doors, conducting opposition research, helping with debate prep — it’s not every class that has students knee-deep in the election cycle. But Campaign 2018: A Hands-On Approach, a course team-taught by two Holy Cross alumni, Timothy Bishop ’72 and Peter Flaherty ’87, is about putting political learnings to the test in real-world campaigns.

The idea behind the innovative, immersive class was to bring two political operatives from different parties together to engage students in a deep study of the midterms — Bishop was a Democratic congressman from Long Island and Flaherty was deputy campaign manager of Mitt Romney’s presidential race.

Rather than rely solely on texts and lectures, students spend multiple days a week interning in campaigns across the Commonwealth soaking up strategies and real-world experience.

For Taylor Gensler ’20, a political science major, her internship is with Democrat Joe Early, who is running for reelection as Worcester County District Attorney. And the experience has been invaluable.

“It’s a small, grassroots effort, and I get a lot of face time with head staffers as well as Joe Early himself. I have done opponent research, researched crime statistics, debate prepped with Joe and also handled marketing posts on the Facebook page.”

That pragmatic experience aligns nicely with Flaherty’s hopes for the intern portion of the course.

“Anybody can study the theory or the policy associated with a subject matter, but with an internship, you actually see how it plays out in the real world on a day-to-day basis. I think that’s very helpful to the students, and has made them even more interested and engaged.”

Across town and on the other side of the political spectrum, Jerome Siangco ’19, an Asian Studies major, has been working on Republican Geoff Diehl’s Senate race against Elizabeth Warren.

“Interning for the Diehl campaign, I need to have foreknowledge on what Geoff Diehl stands for and be able to express that to voters,” says Siangco, who works alongside interns on other Republican races canvassing door to door, making phone calls and holding signs at early voting locations.

 Jerome Siangco '19 (right) canvasses from door to door as part of his campaign internship

Jerome Siangco ’19 (right) canvasses from door to door as part of his campaign internship. Photo courtesy of Jerome Siangco ’19

Siangco, who spent this past summer interning in Washington, D.C., finds he enjoys knocking on doors.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in the College Hill neighborhood through my four years here. Now I’m actually meeting neighbors of Holy Cross and getting a sense for their needs and interests. I’ve met people who don’t plan on voting and I’ve met people with yard signs who have honest conversations about the issues they care about.”

That’s just as the professors hoped.

“You can actually see a direct correlation between the task you’re given in a political campaign and the outcome,” Flaherty says. “To be able to see that during a semester in real time while you’re taking a course in politics, during the most important part of the campaign, is amazing. I’m sure it will be exhilarating for students to see how the work they’re putting in will turn out on election night.”

The class — and the resulting internships — couldn’t be more timely, says Bishop.

“Look, every election is important. But this particular election, from multiple perspectives, is really important. It’s important for people to know what’s at stake and how races evolve and how decisions get made in this country.”

The guest lecturers for the class read like a who’s who of political operatives, including top pollsters from both parties, as well as Democratic Congressman Mike Capuano and former Republican Congressman and Senate-candidate Joe Hecht. David Axelrod, former chief strategist for the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama, even Skyped in for a freewheeling conversation that covered everything from the House and Senate races to the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.

 Carter Mitchell '19, another student in the Campaign 2018 course, makes a phone call as part of her internship.

Carter Mitchell ’19, another student in the Campaign 2018 course, makes a phone call as part of her internship. Photo by Jane Carlton

With a class so highly tied to current events, it’s helpful to have two veteran political minds at the helm. For the first ten to twenty minutes of each class, a group discussion is held about the past week’s events — what’s been in the news and how it affects different races. Bishop and Flaherty are able to give insightful feedback, drawing on their collective knowledge and personal experiences.

After the election, the class is planning a detailed post-mortem, and as the semester draws to a close, the class will welcome CNN analyst Kirsten Powers, journalist Robert Draper and political commentator Chris Matthews ’67.

Aside from her internship, Gensler has found the class highlights the importance of being an engaged citizen and working to do good in the world.

“It’s allowed us to interact with major names in politics, given us a bipartisan view on the current political environment and encouraged us to form our own questions, ideas and thoughts without scrutiny.” Sounds like a win-win.

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