Searching for Volunteers
During the campaign my gmail away message often read, “searching for volunteers”. One simple truth to campaigning is that you can always use more volunteers. Another one is that recruiting volunteers is not an easy task. Volunteer recruitment essentially requires convincing a person to do something that he or she was not planning on doing, actively promoting the campaign. You want a bumper sticker? Take one…but while you’re here, can you make some phone calls? You call yourself a conservative? Then come door-to-door with us today!
By comparison, the Ron Paul campaign was a whole different ball of wax. Realizing the importance of his candidacy, voters independently created meetup groups to organize and mobilize. One didn’t have to uncover every rock searching for volunteers for these meetup groups were an ample supply of eager recruits. However, unlike traditional volunteers, meetup groups were far more resistant to campaign authority. You didn’t have to convince them to volunteer; instead you had to guide them to work with the campaign in proven and productive ways. Sometimes it was a bit like herding cats.
So where is a good place to look for volunteers? How about the city and county Republican committees? After all, these people have shown at least a marginal level of interest and commitment. Sadly, committees are not a good source of volunteers. First of all, the average age of committee members are much higher than your average age of volunteers. Once you reach seventy years old, you’re much less likely to be physically able to go door-to-door. Second, some people have the mistaken impression that committee membership is sufficient involvement to elect like-minded candidates. How many undecided voters can you reach in a committee meeting? Now don’t think that I must hate committees just because I can’t wring them dry for volunteers. Certainly not! They are indispensable and many committee leaders are the hardest working, most motivated, and most dependable people you will ever meet. Seek out the committees for help, but if your search begins and ends there you will be woefully short of help.
Regardless of what most people will tell you, just about everyone has free time that they can devote to the campaign. Unfortunately, politics is not a high priority for a lot of the working class. Perhaps they have family concerns, issues with their jobs, or maybe they are jaded and don’t feel that their efforts will have much of an impact on the election. Therefore, it is best to find a younger demographic, the college and high school students. I immersed myself in politics during my high school years and spent many an afternoon, evening, and weekend at the local headquarters. Drawing from the 2006 election, no group worked harder or made a greater impact than the JMU College Republicans. They selflessly donated vast amounts of time to re-elect Bob Goodlatte and George Allen. If every CR group across the state were as motivated as JMU was then, imagine what we could accomplish. With that experience in mind, I had high hopes for the college students of the 93rd. Now there aren’t any universities within the boundaries of the 93rd, but there are two in neighboring districts: William & Mary in the 64th, and Christopher Newport in the 94th.
As a William & Mary alumni and a former W&M CR, I eagerly sought help from the WMCRs. I first met these folks at the annual activities fair, a place where student groups recruit new blood from the incoming freshmen class. The leadership seemed enthusiastic to be of assistance and we slated Delegate Hamilton to speak at their first meeting. Several days before the meeting, the ODU bomb dropped. In truth, the news broke earlier, but I guess it reached the WMCRs then. As a result, they rescinded our invitation. I was crestfallen. I wrote email after email and made many phone calls in hope of restoring their favor. None proved successful. Although in retrospect, it may have been foolish, I regarded the William & Mary snub as a great failure, my great failure. This memory lurked within my conscience throughout the remainder of the campaign. Once I made uneasy peace with the situation, I read more troubling news out of my alma mater. In the September 23 issue of The DOG Street Journal, the online publication brought this matter into the public eye. “There is one local race, Democrat Robin Abbott versus Republican Phil Hamilton for the 93rd District’s Delegate that only the Young Democrats – not the College Republicans – are involved in.” But the article didn’t stop there, oh no. Further on, the chairman of the WMCRs weighed in. “’Because of the allegations against Phil Hamilton, we have decided to stay out of that race,’ said Chappell. ‘That was a tough decision for us, but we thought that was in our best interest. We researched that extensively; I talked to the campaign manager. Bob McDonnell has asked him to resign, pretty much every major statewide official [h]as asked Delegate Hamilton to resign. I hope he’s cleared of these allegations, but as long as they’re on the table and they seem pretty credible, we decided to stay out of this one.’” I could write a good bit about what I thought of this slight, but I’ll leave you to draw the conclusions here.
On the other hand, the Christopher Newport College Republicans were a great boon to the campaign. The walked, they talked, they attended events. Although the group never showed up in massive numbers, the constant dedication offered by their chairman and a handful of others was extremely helpful and encouraging. Both the campaign and myself owe a debt of gratitude to CNUCRs. Thank you, Cole, and thank you, CNU! May your group flourish and continue to recruit motivated and hardworking leaders.
But let’s not forget about the high school students, shall we? During the final weeks and months of the campaign, students from the local high schools trickled in on Saturdays and weeknights. Although Denbigh Baptist provided the most, they came from just about every local high school in the 93rd and neighboring districts. Unlike my days at Harrisonburg High, many classes now require their students to be politically active. Each student in a government class had to volunteer a certain number of hours. Personally I think the idea is great. By immersing yourself in politics at an early age, before you can even vote, I think you build a far greater appreciation for the government and civic involvement. With such embedded ideals, one is far less likely to see voting as a burden as far too many these days do, but as sacred right and a duty to be taken seriously.
The last point I want to make about volunteers in the 93rd concerns competition. Unlike previous campaigns with which I have dealt, the Hamilton campaign had to compete with not only fellow delegate races, but with the McDonnell, Bolling, Cuccinelli, and RPV efforts as well. It became a constant struggle to secure volunteers into the Hamilton camp before they pledged themselves to another race. Although there was some overlap between statewide and delegate races, I still would have preferred far greater coordination. There were Hamilton volunteers, there were RPV volunteers, and, for the most part, they remained in these separate camps. Although you can never have enough volunteers, having been the last full-time staffer brought into the Newport News office, I felt that I had gotten too late a start in the volunteer recruitment game. The RPV had snatched up many choice volunteers before I arrived. As such, I felt that I was constantly behind the eight ball.