Grassroots movement goes off-campus

GW students have many different ways to spend a weekend. When going to parties, exploring the city, or studying, there is rarely a dull moment. Yet almost every weekend some students choose to cram onto buses, drive for hours and sleep on school gym floors, just to knock on the doors of hundreds of strangers.

Candidates from both sides of the aisle have been recruiting students from GW to travel to key primary states and begin campaigning. Both South Carolina and New Hampshire are key early primary states and are within driving distance from Foggy Bottom.

Groups such as GW Students for Giuliani, GWU for Richardson and GW Students for Obama have packed up their bags and hopped on grassroots campaigning trips to cities more than 500 miles from the District.

GW Students for Obama recently organized a trip to South Carolina in late September. The trip included more than 50 people from D.C. for Obama, with 18 of those from GW.

“We filled up a bus with people and went down to South Carolina. We slept on the floor of an elementary school and then knocked on doors,” said Adam Weiner, field director for the organization. “It felt good to get out and do something instead of just sitting around and talking.”

Grassroots campaigning is a way for everyday people to take an active role in politics, said Alison McCauley, chair of GWU for Richardson chair. She said grassroots campaigning is led by people who wish to participate in politics in ways beyond the traditional financial contributions. Any time someone can devote goes further than any monetary contribution they can make, she said. GWU for Richardson just wrapped a trip to New Hampshire in early October. The trip was small, only 10 volunteers, with four students from GW.

“Getting to work for the governor on the ground in such a critical state is an exciting way to get directly involved with helping the campaign,” McCauley said.

The 2008 presidential election is still more than a year away, but candidates are now campaigning harder and earlier than ever before. Candidates are covering the big circuits – making TV ads, staging rallies, giving speeches, participating in debates and holding fundraising dinners for $1,000 a plate – but much of campaigning still goes on at the local level. The name of the game nowadays is coverage – getting the candidates name and information out to the most people.

“While spreading our message via the airways and Web is crucial, today’s increasingly close elections are being won and lost on the ground, and grassroots campaigners are the foot soldiers,” said Nick Sosa of GW Students for Giuliani said.

Campaigns need thousands of “foot soldiers,” and one of the first places they look is at universities such as GW.

“The students who sacrifice their free time to campaign realize how much is at stake for themselves and their country in the upcoming election,” Sosa said. Everyone has their own reasons for campaigning. For Weiner, it’s his deep belief in Sen. Obama’s (D-Ill.) vision. He said Obama represents “change and (is) most likely to close wounds here and abroad.” For McCauley and Sosa, convincing voters that their candidate is the best has been the main goals of their organizations. McCauley and Sosa said it’s all about spreading the word about their candidate’s vision for the future.

“By making voters aware of Mayor Giuliani’s optimistic vision and record of conservative governance, they can make the difference in helping to ensure that Rudy Giuliani is elected as the next president of the United States,” Sosa said.

But no matter their reasons, campaigners share a similar notion that everyone can play an important role in an election.

Weiner said “many people don’t really feel they can make a difference, which is wrong. Every door I knock on could change a prospective voter.”

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