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Election Day 2012: Students' first-hand campaign work

November 6, 2012

Today, millions of Americans will perform one of the most important duties associated with living in a democracy: They will vote.

For many Drake students, casting a ballot represents the culmination of months of direct involvement in the federal, state, and local election process. Drake students have canvassed for political parties, knocked on doors for presidential and legislative candidates, facilitated coverage by hundreds of local and national news reporters, briefed campaign staffers on media trends, and organized major political rallies.

And that just scratches the surface of the opportunities that students have taken advantage of by virtue of their connections at Drake and their home-away-from-home in the capital of a storied swing state.

“We’re at the forefront of everything,” says Eric Baker, a junior international business major from Glen Ellyn, Ill. “With Iowa hosting the first-in-the-nation caucuses and being a battleground state for the general election, it’s inevitable that you’re going to hear about politics. You’re going to see, and meet, presidential candidates. It’s easy to jump in head-first, and once you jump in, I’ve found it impossible to stop.”

Last year, as an intern with the Republican Party of Iowa, Baker helped coordinate logistics for the state’s more than 8,000 caucus sites. Then he brushed elbows with international news outlets as an assistant to the party’s communications director during the ABC News/Yahoo! Republican Presidential Debate, hosted live from Drake’s Sheslow Auditorium. (He was interviewed by National Public Radio and arranged interviews for classmates on ABC, NBC, and even a Japanese news outlet.)

As is so often the case at Drake, Baker’s first internship led to other opportunities. The day of the debate, Baker had a conversation with Josh Romney, son of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, at an on-campus event. The two maintained correspondence after the debate, and eventually Josh Romney alerted Baker to an internship opportunity in Massachusetts. After that internship, he also worked for Congressman Tom Latham (R-IA).

Where’s it all leading? Baker doesn’t know yet, but he has no doubt it’s somewhere worthwhile—and he’s enjoying the ride.

“I don’t have a degree, I don’t know what I’m doing with my life, but I know that I have all of these new abilities because of the opportunities that being in Des Moines and going to Drake have given me,” Baker says.

Here are three more Drake students with a passion for politics:

Alex Shaner, a junior politics and international relations double major from Geneva, Neb., has held public policy-focused internships with senators in Nebraska and Iowa. He’s currently gaining first-hand campaign experience—as well as confidence and communication skills—as a door-to-door canvasser for Congressman Leonard Boswell (D-IA). Drake faculty members have guided him in pursuing each of these experiences, which he says will help him as he considers a career in public interest law.

“Coming to college, I didn’t think I could have the relationship with professors that I do at Drake,” Shaner says. “They want to start you off in your career and help you succeed on a career path, using their connections and experiences.”

Larissa Wurm, a junior who plans to triple major in politics, public relations, and law, politics, and society, has held a string of political internships that all began with an email from one of her politics professors. Wurm, a native of Champlin, Minn., responded to an email that said Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann sought interns in Iowa.

An internship in Bachmann’s campaign office created experiences and personal connections that landed Wurm a second internship, with congressman Latham, and a third with Iowa Republican congressional candidate John Archer.

“I really enjoy campaigning,” Wurm says. “I would be okay doing that as a career after graduation and maybe managing my own campaign some day. Not in a million years would I ever have thought this is what I would be doing, but I really like it. I feel like none of it would have happened without Drake.”

Julianne Klampe, a sophomore politics and international relations major from Rochester, Minn., is a politics junkie who hit her stride at Drake. As the daughter of a state senator, she’s been campaigning since she could walk. On campus she’s enjoyed individual attention from faculty and an environment of engagement and enthusiasm from her fellow students. She even receives academic credit for an internship with presidential incumbent Barack Obama’s campaign in Iowa.

“I thought about going to the East Coast for college, but in retrospect, enrolling at Drake was a great decision,” Klampe says. “The connections you make in Iowa are so important—in D.C. you’re a small fish in a big sea, but in Iowa you make strong connections with people who have very specific skills and networks.”