When senior Joshua Balk woke up Tuesday morning, Sept. 10, the day of the Democratic primaries, he dressed in a worn T-shirt with a logo on the back reminding supporters to vote for his candidate. He had high hopes his seven-month grassroots campaign would afford him a new shirt proclaiming “A Victory for Van Hollen.”
At 1:28 a.m. on Sept. 11, Balk got to wear that shirt.
Balk, a political science major, has worked on the Chris Van Hollen, Jr. campaign since last spring. Van Hollen, a Maryland state senator, ran a positive, record-based campaign against fellow Democrat Mark K. Shriver, state representative, and other hopefuls to win the Democratic nomination in Maryland’s 8th Congressional District.
Balk said he has spent more hours in Maryland working for the campaign than he has in class this semester.
“The experience I’ve had learning from Chris Van Hollen, Campaign Field Coordinator Josh Bushey and Democratic pollster Dave Camporeale has truly inspired me to better this country by ethical political means,” Balk said.
The campaign slogan, “a congressman for people who care about issues,” gave Balk and his volunteers a platform from which they could spread their liberal convictions. Abortion rights, gun control, education and the environment are at the top of their agenda. But the question voters will answer Tuesday is whether they believe Van Hollen cares more about their issues than the Republican incumbent Constance A. Morella.
As a one-time college baseball player for Keystone College in Pennsylvania, Balk, whose fastball on his best day hit 90 mph, aspired to play in the big leagues. But a torn rotator cuff and back injury prevented him from doing so. It was at Keystone, Balk said, when a passion for politics replaced his love of baseball.
Transferring in August 2001 to GW to finish his political-science degree, he no longer spends his afternoons watching the Chicago Cubs games. Now Balk’s television is tuned to MSNBC’s “Hardball,” C-SPAN or CNN’s “Crossfire.”
Balk has worked on three political campaigns and never come out on the side of the victor.
In 2000, he campaigned in Scranton, Pa. supporting the then Vice-President Al Gore’s bid for the presidency. He also worked for Pat Casey, the son of Pennsylvania’s former Governor Bob Casey, who ran for Congress, and Lynn Yeake,l who ran for state Senate, both of whom lost.
However, a loss back then was not the end of the world; he had the safety net of GW to catch his fall. This time is different, however, Balk graduates at the close of fall semester and looks to pursue a job within the Democratic Party.
Balk said he hopes that the rising tide of a win in November will thrust his political career, for the long and short term, to all-ahead-full.
“It is a strange, exciting feeling,” Balk said. “A win against such a formidable opponent will be an astounding accomplishment.”
Only Constance A. Morella, the Republican incumbent, who Democrats have called “the most vulnerable congressional Republican,” stands in the way of Balks’ first political victory.
After the primaries, Van Hollen still relies heavily on one of the of largest grassroots campaigns in recent history. His liberal volunteer base is thickly spread throughout the 8th District, and for nearly a year has worked to gain support from the educated, issue-savvy constituents.
The voters will decide the fate of Balk, Van Hollen and company on Nov. 5.