Princeton Students Help Presidential Long Shots Strive For Influence

This story was written by Kate Benner & Matt Westmoreland, The Daily Princetonian
Their hangout: the backseat of a minivan. Their beds: three mattresses on the floor and bunked beds in the corner. Their home: a small second-floor flat on Main Street in Manchester, N.H. Their job: interns for Rep. Dennis Kucinich's (D-Ohio) presidential campaign.

The Kucinich campaign runs its operations in the Manchester area through this two-room suite, with one room serving as "the office" while the other is "the apartment," where some of the campaign's interns and volunteers live.

Since Jan. 3, the campaign's staff has been joined by Princeton University freshman Michael Collins, who opted to end winter break early to help out a candidate who even he admits is sometimes a little eccentric.

"He's not that crazy," Collins, who is also a Daily Princetonian staff photographer, said of Kucinich. "He says crazy things a lot, but his policy standpoints are pretty sensible."

Kucinich, Collins added, is "undeniably American," and he argued that a majority of Americans agree with most of Kucinich's views.

"He's a relatively normal, very sensible guy," Collins said. "He thinks we shouldn't spend billions and billions of dollars on a war, and maybe that corporations shouldn't have so much influence on our government."

Though Collins doesn't stay in the apartment with some of the other campaign workers, he's been logging long hours during his stint in the Granite State.

"I've been here for two days, and I feel like I've been here for a month," he said. "There's very little sleep. It's a mixture of school and camp."

Collins is not the only Princeton undergrad working for a long-shot candidate. Freshman Jason Aronson, who is a copy editor for the Daily Princetonian, spent the last several days working for Gov. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.). Aronson heard of Richardson, who served as ambassador to the United Nations and energy secretary under former President Bill Clinton, a couple years ago and was excited when the Pace Center gave him the chance to campaign for the candidate.

"Some of the positions that really impressed me were on foreign policy," Aronson said. "His experience is paramount, and his are the most drastic plans."

Collins said that, while he doesn't agree with Kucinich on every issue, he likes the message he promotes in the course of his bare-bones campaign, which has raised only $2 million this cycle. Additionally, he said, he admires the integrity that Kucinich -- or "DK," as he is known in his campaign office -- brings to the Democratic race. "I think Dennis is an honest guy," Collins said.

While former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) touts a similarly populist message, Collins said voters should consider candidates' actions as well as their words. "Look at our campaign setup," he said, motioning toward a messy bedroom that resembled a college dorm room. "We're above a restaurant. You can smell the fried fish if you breathe in deeply. There's not corporate money here." By contrast, he said, Edwards "gets on this private jet with his $400 haircut."

Collins said the vast majority of his fellow interns are young, and that most are from out of state. They have spent the week trying to reach out to as many voters as possible in the lead-up to the Jan. 8 primary.

"I've been doing mapping, which is making maps that the canvassers use," he explained. "It's relatively tedious [and] extremely boring. It's not particularly rewarding because mostly we canvass during the day because it's too cold to canvass at night, and people aren't really home during the day."

While Collins was busy making maps, Aronson was making calls -- lots of them. He worked from a small sorefront inside a strip mall just outside Manchester, home to one of the campaign's field offices.

Aronson learned quickly that the Richardson campaign was not the only entity contacting voters. "I was on the phone with someone who said, 'You're my record -- you're my 11th call tonight,'" he recalled.

Aronson said that making so many calls can get tough, especially when he reaches homes that have already been overloaded with calls from all the other campaigns. "It feels good when people say, 'Yeah, I'm supporting Richardson,'" he said.

Collins also acknowledged that the voters he tries to reach may feel campaign fatigue, but added, "I think it helps so they see the Kucinich people aren't crazy radicals, although some of us in there are crazy radicals."

Nevertheless, Collins' candidate of choice was only polling in the low single digits in the days leading up to the primary. Though he knows his candidate won't be going to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. anytime soon, Collins said that Kucinich can still play a role in the coming general election.

"It's a political reality that he won't win this primary or this election," he said. "He's not going to win, but he's going to influence the debate."

Aronson, meanwhile, said the six long nights he's spent at Richardson's campaign office have inspired him to undertake similar efforts in the future. "It's been pretty exciting," he said. "It's really turned me on to this sort of work. I really am now more excited to work on a campaign."
© 2008 The Daily Princetonian via U-WIRE