While all those associated with the Mormon Church and school generally leaned to the right, few were politically active. The liberal college’s students, faculty and staff were almost all lefties and tended to be more politically engaged. Being a college-dominated district there was a very high turnover in voters from one election cycle to the next and because so many people connected with a college are only in the area for a few years a lot of them don’t take much interest in local politics, don’t register and often don’t vote. So voter ID was a constant problem.
We had a gut feeling that there were probably more conservative than liberals in the district and felt that if we could just find all of them and make sure that they registered and voted then we might have a chance at upsetting the incumbent Democrat.
We needed a large and intensive voter ID program that could keep being updated with every two year election cycle.
So, a couple of years ago our campaign team approached the political science department at the Mormon school and asked about ways that we might give their students an opportunity to get involved in helping to elect a conservative congressman. We thought that the experience of volunteering would be invaluable experience and worth at least a three hour college credit. The students could go door knocking (like, that’s what Mormons do, right?) and instead of evangelizing for their church they could, well, help save America. Wouldn’t that be a perfect way for an earnest student to spend the summer between sophomore and junior years.
It wasn’t that simple.
The profs we talked to were truly enthusiastic but made it clear that they were not about to give away a college credit just for door knocking. There had to be some serious academic content to go along with it. Also, the students had to earn money over the summer to pay for their tuition and living expenses the following year. Their fees were not in the Ivy League or NYU range but they had to be paid and unlike many of the spoiled liberal brats down the road it was part of the Mormon tradition that students would work hard all summer and pay for a major portion of their college education. Who knew?
We approached several business owners in the district and asked if they could provide students with summer jobs, especially ones that began early in the morning so that they would be free in late afternoon and evening to canvass.
One of the businesses was a market garden operation. The owner explained that he normally hired only Mexicans because American college kids were too soft and lazy to get up at 5:00 am and work all day picking fruit and vegetables. But he said he would try 20 of them for two weeks and if they could handle it they could stay on. If not, then the Mexicans would take over. The pay would be a base of $8.00 an hour and for that they would have to meet a quota, and then bonus based on piece work beyond quota.
Work hours would be from 5:00 am to 1:00 pm every day, six days a week, with Sundays off. The owner was a Christian and didn’t believe in working on Sundays. Exploiting transient laborers however was just good business. Hmmm…
That arrangement would solve the summer job issue. With 20 canvassers – 10 fellows and 10 girls – we thought we could cover almost all of the district.
Then there was the academic credit concern. We agreed with the college that we would invite guest lecturers in to speak to the students every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon from 4:00 to 5:00 pm. Every Sunday afternoon from 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm would be workshop time when the students would be divided into study teams to design and produce some sort of project related to local politics. The good folks are the Leadership Institute suggested a few good texts for the reading. There would be tests every three weeks based on the lectures and the readings; every student had to write a brief paper on an appropriate topic and the project teams had to present their findings at the end of the term.
We were, to say the least, very apprehensive. The work load seemed absolutely brutal. But it seems that these Mormon kids were raised with a work ethic and they worked. They began in mid-May with rhubarb and asparagus. Then came the strawberries (if Mormons were allowed to curse, they would still be cursing strawberries), then all the rest of the garden vegetables and fruit and finally the corn and grapes in August. At first it was very tough going but they were fabulous young kids and pulled each other through. We got them all iPods and they listened to some of their books on tape and to replays of the lectures. They quickly learned that there is a good reason why the rest of the world takes a siesta after lunch and they came to prize their naps times. Being all good Mormons (they had to apply for this course and be selected by the faculty) none of them drank or smoked or even wanted a coffee. No sex or messing around (and these were American college kids?) and a general cheerful attitude even when exhausted.
Every weekday from Monday through Saturday (with Friday evening off), starting at 5:00 pm, they went canvassing. They quit by 8:30 pm and usually went to sleep shortly after that. We splurged and got them all iPads and they covered the entire electoral district. At first we set up the logistics for them but within a few weeks they had the entire district mapped and worked out a system for transporting teams and sending squads back into areas already canvassed to pick up the homes that were missed. Some of them stayed back in the office and placed phone calls. Two became the data gurus and entered all the results into our data base (this was a lot easier since the results were already entered into the iPads and could be easily downloaded). They were sent out in units of one male and one female. At least half of them fell in love before the end of the summer and two announced that they were engaged. Who knew?
We conscripted a couple of our town councilors and the town business manager, a congressman from a neighboring district, one of our US Senators, a couple of officials from conservative 401 (c) 4 organizations and several veterans of past election campaigns to come a speak to the students. Most were exceptionally interesting. Some . . . well, you know. The college was very satisfied with the program and awarded all of the students 6 hrs. of credit and 4.0 marks.
We could not possibly canvass every home in the entire district. But every evening, nine couples hit the streets and one stayed back and either worked the phones or did data entry. They averaged 15 homes and hour for three hours each day. After 13 weeks we had contacted well over 20,000 homes in those precincts that we knew had the highest turnover in voters. We updated records on 12,000+ voters, helped 2,000+ conservatives register to vote, identified over 1000 new potential volunteers and donors and dropped off 20,000 pieces of conservative literature.
The following summer we did it all again. By analyzing the precincts more thoroughly in advance we were able to concentrate on those areas where canvassing would have the greatest impact. By November we were way ahead of where we had ever been in terms of registered voters. With a strong GOTV effort (using many of the same students as volunteers) we turned out enough voters to win the election.
It took a lot of work – far more than we had expected. But it was a win-win-win arrangement. The students received invaluable experience. They had fun, lost weight, got fit, looked great, added college credits and made great connections for their future careers. The local campaign organization got a huge boost from the work done and the results obtained.
The business owner was satisfied and paid the students his highest compliment saying, “They were almost as good as Mexicans.” The piece work bonus system allowed most of the students to earn well over $25 an hour. Almost all netted out over $10,000 for the summer, and they deserved every cent.
The college loved it – they got to deliver 6 hours of courses with almost no overhead or costs and the students even paid reduced fees to stay in dorms that were normally vacant in the summertime. The church considered it ideal preparation for the young men who would be doing their Mormon missionary thing.
Our congressman won.
And two wedding dates have been set.
(Note: the above story is fictional. It has been provided to give potential contributors an example of they types of stories we hope they will share with fellow conservatives.)