Student groups prepare for midterm elections
Emily McConville | Sunday, November 2, 2014
As Tuesday’s midterm elections approach, members of the Notre Dame College Democrats and College Republicans are making phone calls and knocking on doors, helping candidates for local and national offices campaign and get out the vote.
Senior Mark Gianfalla, president of the College Republicans, said the group focused primarily on campaigning for Jackie Walorski (R-IN), the representative for Indiana’s 2nd district who is running for re-election, and Jeff Sanford, who is running for county prosecutor. He said the club organized rides to phone banks every Thursday over the past several months and canvassed neighborhoods in the county every weekend.
“It gets you the experience of seeing how much of an effect you can have,” Gianfalla said. “That’s why we’re focusing so much on the prosecutorial race. It’s a small race, smaller office, but in the end, our group could have a huge effect on it. So are some of the county council races we’ve been working on. It’s important to see how you can make a difference.”
Senior Michelle McCarthy, co-president of the College Democrats, said that, although the group does not campaign for candidates directly, several members of the club intern for Joe Bock, a professor at the Eck Center for Global Health who is running against Walorski, and some members helped county council candidate Chris Stackowicz’s campaign in the spring. McCarthy, who canvassed and made calls for the Bock campaign, said working in the field allowed her to learn about South Bend politics and the people who vote in local elections.
“I’ve done some research. I’ve talked to local residents about what they want, what they don’t want, knocking on doors,” McCarthy said. “It’s a really great way to see South Bend. By actually talking to people, you figure out what they’re actually interested in and what they actually care about, which might not necessarily be the same things as a Notre Dame college student.”
Senior Iris Schweier, a member of the College Democrats who interned for the Bock campaign’s financial wing in the spring and did field work this fall, said meeting voters helped prepare her for a career in the political field.
“I think [I’m] getting a more firsthand experience of what politics actually is,” Schweier said. “I had some policy experience before this, with legislation and certain issues, but now I’m figuring out the people aspect of politics, which is so cool. If we’re electing these people to represent us, the people who they’re representing are so important, getting to know how they feel about issues and how they’re affected and whether or not they’re going to vote.”
Sophomore Louis Bertolotti, the College Republicans’ director of political affairs, said canvassing in South Bend and Mishawaka, especially in low-income neighborhoods, helped him understand the issues important to voters.
“We live in the Notre Dame bubble. It’s really easy to just sit back, relax and enjoy the ride, but there are a lot of issues out there,” Bertolotti said. “Going out, getting to meet these people and going to see the issues that matter to them really shows what it’s all about. It gives you perspective of what you’re doing it all for, and it gives you motivation to keep working hard, keep doing what you’re doing.”
Bertolotti said the College Republicans will hand out literature on candidates on Election Day and continue to work with the St. Joseph County Republicans after the results come in, collecting voter information before the next election cycle.
McCarthy said members of the College Democrats will be at the Bock campaign headquarters Tuesday. She said working on campaigns this election cycle helped her make connections in the St. Joseph County Democratic Party, and she said she hopes to continue to foster those relationships in the future.
“Now that I have the names and the contacts of local leaders, I definitely let them know that Notre Dame College Democrats is a resource for the people of South Bend,” McCarthy said. “We have people who are very passionate about these issues, and it’s a mutually beneficial relationship there, where our club members can really get involved with real politics in a real city, and hopefully we can provide some manpower to [the Democratic Party] as well.”