Purdue Alumnus FA20 web - Flipbook - Page 43
INSIDE AN ELECTION
BLAZING A NEW TRAIL:
CAMPAIGNING DURING A PANDEMIC
to New Hampshire
New Hampshire has
legislature in the
world, with 400 state
24 state senators.
E R IN SP E NCE R
Every position at the
state level is a twoyear term, including
New Hampshire pays
legislators a small
stipend of $100 and
no per diem.
PUR D U E A LU MN I . O RG
When Donald Spencer (S’18, LA’18) left his hometown of
Brownsburg, Indiana, for college, a life in politics wasn’t
on his radar. He started school with the intent of following
a premed track and becoming a doctor. Then, when West
Lafayette annexed Purdue’s campus, Spencer took another
look at politics, seeing the chance to run for city council as
an opportunity to add a student voice to the local governing body.
“Talk about right time, right place,” says Spencer. “Ultimately I was unsuccessful, but that got me involved.”
After graduating with a double major in interdisciplinary science and political science, Spencer and his partner
— children’s book illustrator Erin Spencer (T’17) — relocated
to New Hampshire, where he could pursue work as a field
organizer with the Democratic Party. A major part of the
state’s draw was the unique nature of its politics. “Live
free or die” might be the Granite State’s motto, but there’s
another local saying that’s just as important: “The road to
the White House runs through New Hampshire.”
Donald Trump carried the Rust Belt by narrow margins
in 2016, but New Hampshire was even closer. Hillary Clinton
carried the state with the slimmest margin of any state —
just 2,376 votes. Given New Hampshire’s incredibly close
electoral contests, Spencer underscores the important role
of neighbor-to-neighbor campaigning.
“Door knocking, having conversations in your community, and getting on that personal level of why you’re supporting a candidate, how it impacts you and others. We
don’t take any vote for granted.”
So how does that translate when this sort of highly personal communication has to be socially distanced or done
“We’re an older state, and because of that, we’ve always been
pretty hesitant about moving things online,” says Spencer.
Then everyone was forced to.
“Within a week and a half, we hit our stride,” shares Spencer. “We spent all of our staff hours training people how
to meet digitally, how to attend Zoom meetings or Google
Hangouts, or convert things to social media. Within the
span of two weeks, we went entirely digital.”
Voter contact is the organizer’s carrot. Hitting as many
doors as possible. Making the most of the 6:00–9:00 p.m.
window for phone calls. Campaigning under COVID-19, with
no distinction left between home and office, how does an
organizer balance the desire to connect with as many people
as possible with the need to take a step back sometimes?
“That extra hour that you put in to get those extra few
votes,” says Spencer. “That stress is extremely real in our
work, but it also keeps us wanting to do this work. I am
where I am today because I was raised by a strong single
mother, and the only reason she was able to be successful
was because the community came together to support her.
“It’s those values that remind you why the work we do
is so important,” says Spencer. “Yes, it can lead to 12- or
14-hour days — but you’re driven because of the values
you’re fighting for.”
FA L L 2020