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Plan now to help Mayor Pete in Iowa

| Thursday, November 14, 2019

For politically minded Notre Dame students — regardless of party affiliation, personal presidential candidate preference or self-identified issue purity — a lifetime opportunity has thrust itself upon you. Call it the luck of the Irish or the planets perfectly aligning, but your neighbor is running for the presidency and needs a legion of volunteers. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign offers every Notre Dame student an instant internship in exchange for about a week’s work. Grasping your moment is as easy as personally walking into the Buttigieg downtown campaign headquarters at 218 Sycamore Street and volunteering.

With nearly 80 days remaining before the February 3rd first-in-the-nation contest, nothing offers more of a life experience and a lesson in political campaigning at the highest level. However, timing is vital, and you should act now. Plan your budget, clear your course absences with your second semester professors by offering to remotely participate or through an independent study project. Then recruit friends to join your caravan to immerse yourselves for a week. If possible, freeload off an Iowan student’s parents. Your adventure will be an immensely gratifying political odyssey if you plan now using my 2008 blueprint.

As a former Bill Clinton presidential appointee, I naturally volunteered for Hillary Clinton during the nine days prior to her 2008 contest against then-Senators Barack Obama and John Edwards. Realize that even if you are not a Democrat or are opposed to some of the Buttigieg positions, this is a unique opportunity to witness history as it unfolds. It will not taint you or scar you for life, but is similar to interning at the White House for a president of a differing party affiliation. The rare unique caucus experience “trumps” all other factors, especially since the GOP has no competitive caucus challenge to the president. Add this venture on your resume.

In 2008, groups of students from an assortment of universities volunteered over varying periods of time depending upon their collegiate holiday vacation schedules. Some arrived after Christmas and skipped their winter semester to work through early February. Others, like me, offered themselves for the closing week’s surge activities in the run-up to caucus night. Despite our uneven time commitments, we immersed ourselves in the campaign, culminating with an assigned precinct to assist the permanent campaign staff on caucus night.

Our savvy student volunteers began planning in November and enlisted friends to share expenses by carpooling to Iowa, teaming up as many as six to a hotel room and dining many a night on Ramen Noodles. I, on the other hand, splurged at a Motel 6, but followed their budget-thrifty regimen as well. Pooling resources is an easy way to manage a shoestring existence, especially for a week’s duration.

By chance, I was assigned to Burlington, a quaint town in eastern Iowa across the river from Illinois. Burlington’s claim to fame is actor William Frawley who portrayed iconic characters Fred Mertz in “I Love Lucy” and as Bub in the “My Three Sons” comedy programs. Burlington represented a mix of commerce, labor and farming interests. My first outreach assignment at the headquarters taught me the issues from telephone scripts. I then worked on the logistics at a church where President Bill Clinton spoke, and served on his entourage. Eventually, I canvassed door-to-door while rating voter support from zero to five so that the campaign identified its core supporters.

Iowans expect campaigns to personally contact them. Most are friendly and courteous, despite the deluge of attention lavished upon them. One Saturday, I personally spoke to 90% of my assigned quota. However, I noted trouble for Clinton, the favorite entering caucus night. With an ice storm forecast for Tuesday, many elderly voters indicated that they would not travel on ice to caucus but would vote for Clinton in the fall.

On caucus night, I traveled 20 miles outside Burlington through the ice storm to a rural small town. During the proceedings, Iowans conducted themselves within a friendly neighborly competitive atmosphere since most of them knew their neighbors by their first names. While their dialogue at times became spirited, it remained friendly, was absent of malice and lacked any combative destructive quality.

After the first round count, former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and, at the time, Senator Joe Biden failed to reach the minimum viability of support. Our staff cajoled and wooed their supporters to join us for the final count. Sometimes decisions were made on the slightest of issues like promising to study the feasibility of adding a new stop sign in the middle of town.

In my precinct, the ice storm no-shows weakened Clinton. With seven delegates at stake, Obama received 126 votes (three delegates), Edwards garnered 122 votes (two delegates) and Clinton tallied 119 votes (two delegates). Despite razor-thin margins, Obama’s win propelled him into the history books.

My caucus experience of a lifetime taught me that the most rewarding moments in life occur whenever one takes advantage of unique opportunities. Nobody can predict if an ice storm will again chill Buttigieg’s current rise in the Iowa polls. But one thing is certain; every four years the Iowa Caucus beckons volunteers. Now is your time to heed that call.

Gary J. Caruso, Notre Dame ’73 American Studies major, serves in the Department of Homeland Security and was a legislative and public affairs director at the U.S. House of Representatives and in President Clinton’s administration. Contact him on Twitter: @GaryJCaruso or e-mail: [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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