By Will Holland '20
Before he went down in the polls following the first debate, before he went up in the polls following the second debate, and before he had been the subject of many polls at all, Vice President Joe Biden had the high honor of meeting three high school students from St. Albans School in Washington, D.C.
Much to the surprise of Aidan Stretch, Liam Warin, and me (Ilyas Talwar would later join us), our first day interning for a presidential campaign was characterized by a long day of travel as the former VP crisscrossed the state of Iowa. We had found our roles in the Biden campaign through some family members before the end of school. With hardly a few days of summer behind us, we set off to staff events for Mr. Biden in various towns across the state. At each stop, the three of us were assigned different tasks: from taking names as people came through to “juicing” the crowd after the Vice President delivered his zingers. At one point, two of us became an impromptu security detail that closed off an aisle to prying photographers, over-excitable supporters, and even hecklers!
After the last event in Davenport, the higher level staff informed us that we were going to get a picture with the man himself. We waited anxiously in the near-empty convention hall as Mr. Biden shook hands with his most ardent supporters. Expecting a very brief interaction, the three of us eagerly awaited the chance to get a photo with the VP before he moved on to his next event. That being said, it came as a surprise when we suddenly found ourselves in the middle of anything but a basic photo-op.
We were crowded into a back room with some of Mr. Biden’s highest staff, among them the Deputy Campaign Manager and the Iowa Field Director. Following a short wait, the Vice President ambled into the room, shaking hands and laughing about the events of the day. Despite our disbelief, the three of us kept our cool as we introduced ourselves to Mr. Biden, who seemed unphased from a long day of travel. He then asked an aide for his phone and delved into the data of the campaign. He shared his strategy for the debates and then, remarkably, spoke aloud about fundraising numbers that had yet to be made public by the campaign. These included the level of support amongst different constituencies, the total amount raised, and the average donation per supporter, all of which we were in absolutely no position to know as interns. Mr. Biden closed out by thanking all of us for believing in him, and that he was determined to make us proud.
The drive back to Des Moines that night was long and the car far too small, but our spirits were high as we reveled in meeting one of the most recognizable people in the country. While the rest of the internship was not as exhilarating, it was far from boring.
Over the next two weeks we witnessed first hand how a campaign functions. Using a certain software, the four of us entered countless names and phone numbers into the campaign database. From headquarters, each of us called about five hundred individuals in hopes of securing donations or support for the campaign. In the Des Moines suburbs, we attended a house party where we met Joe Biden’s most dedicated organizers and discussed what we could do as individual supporters.
In this way, the most memorable part of the trip was not the photo that we had taken with Mr. Biden, although that was perhaps the most exciting, but rather it was the assemblage of experiences, meetings, and tasks that gave us an unparalleled view of the political world. It is no small feat to run a campaign, of any size, and it is safe to say that the four of us now know, even if from an elementary standpoint, the level of dedication and hard work that go into a political movement. At a time when politics is more dysfunctional and the national mood more cynical than ever, such knowledge may be worth a thousand pictures.