Presidential candidate Barack Obama has a lot of big names behind him -- Oprah Winfrey, John Kerry, Alice Walker. And joining their ranks as a hard-working Obama supporter is Santa Clara sophomore Jack Mahoney.
Mahoney, a native of Boston whose family now lives in San Francisco, spent the last seven months as an intern and then paid staff member of Obama for America, Senator Obama's presidential campaign. And although this past summer was his first as a staff member of a campaign, his interest in politics is far from new.
"The first actual campaign that I can remember taking an interest in was when Ted Kennedy ran for Senate in 1994, when I was seven," he said.
It appears that interest has stuck.
Mahoney, a political science and religious studies major, had volunteered at a number of political campaigns and conventions, but Obama for America was his first time as a staff member.
"I was always observant of politics, and interested in it," said Mahoney. "But I didn't really start getting involved in campaigns until I came here and I had the motivation and the time to do stuff that was more appealing."
Mahoney's introduction to Obama was at the 2004 Democratic Convention in Boston, where he was a volunteer.
"His speech was one of the most moving things I've ever heard because it touched so much of what I wanted politics to be," Mahoney said.
He has kept Obama on his political radar since, and when he was offered the opportunity to be an intern for the Obama for America campaign this past summer, Mahoney jumped at the chance.
As one of about 55 interns in the New Hampshire field office, Mahoney was responsible for attending meetings with state or local officials, as well as contacting voters by phone or face to face in nine towns across central New Hampshire.
"It was everything from knocking on doors to talking to voters," Mahoney said. "Every voter's concern is different from another voter, so it was my responsibility as an intern, and even more when I was on staff, to really be able to answer and articulate what his (Obama's) opinion was on each issue."
To accommodate his internship, Mahoney moved to an apartment in New Hampshire. A few weeks before school started, he was one of about eight interns offered a position as a paid staff member. He accepted, delaying his return to school until early January.
"It was good for me to be able to take a quarter off and do something like this, because I'm never going to have the opportunity to do it again," Mahoney said, adding that he is able to stay on track to graduate on time through internship credits and Advanced Placement classes that transferred to Santa Clara.
As a staff member, Mahoney oversaw his own interns and continued contacting voters in his New Hampshire towns, largely in preparation for the New Hampshire primaries.
"It was a lot of responsibility. Our progress was tracked every day," he said. "The whole time, I was trying to persuade people, talking to as many New Hampshire people as I possibly could about why they should support Barack."
As the New Hampshire primaries drew nearer, Mahoney had as many as five interns working under him.
"What really impressed me was getting to know everyone he'd talked to and built relationships with, and how much everyone just really liked him," said Stephanie Majerowicz, a Stanford sophomore who interned under Mahoney.
Mahoney's hard work kept him in New Hampshire through Thanksgiving and Christmas.
"It was a huge deal for me. Christmas was really hard," said his mother, Jennifer Mahoney. Mahoney also missed his older brother's engagement announcement, and had to be asked to be best man over the phone, his mother said. Still, hisfamily recognized the importance of Mahoney's involvement in the campaign.
"It was worth every minute," his mother said. "If you weigh, 'Oh, I'm not going to see him,' versus this incredible opportunity, you just have to choose the opportunity."
After the New Hampshire primaries on Jan. 8, Mahoney's contract with Obama for America ended. He returned to school on Jan. 10, but said his commitment to Obama is far from over. He is traveling to Nevada to volunteer his help for the Nevada primaries on Jan. 19, and plans to volunteer at Obama for America's Palo Alto office throughout the coming weeks.
"Volunteering is nice, because you don't really have the responsibilities of a staff member, or the concerns of a staff member," Mahoney said. "It's a lot of fun because you can really put your heart and soul in it and say what you want and show your devotion."
Upon his return, some of his friends threw Mahoney a "Welcome Back Jack" party.
"He's definitely a presence," said sophomore Mary Hayes, a close friend of Mahoney's. "He totally has character, so when he wasn't around, he was missed." Hayes added that she wasn't surprised when Jack told his friends that he'd be taking a quarter off to work on the campaign.
"He's easily the most driven person I know," Hayes said. "He's been obsessed with politics since I met him."
Though he wasn't the youngest member of Obama for America's New Hampshire office, Mahoney said that he was definitely one of very few that had not yet graduated college, and most staff members were in their 20s and 30s.
Mahoney also said that while many campaigns are utilizing a more youthful workforce, Obama for America had more high school and college-aged volunteers at rallies and events than any other candidate that he saw.
Though his contract with Obama for America is through, Mahoney hopes to bring that youthful activism in politics right back to Santa Clara.
"There's some things from the campaign and from being involved in the process that I don't think I'm ever going to forget," said Mahoney. "And I think it's something that I'd like to bring back to this campus."
Contact Liz O'Brien at (408) 554-4546 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2008 The Santa Clara via U-WIRE