Karisa Cernera ’14
Last Thursday December 6th, Rose Lichtenfels ‘14 spoke to students and faculty members at Trinity College about her experiences in working as a field organizer for President Obama’s campaign this past fall. Stationed in Iowa, Lichtenfels helped to register voters, canvas neighborhoods and promote early voter registration. Iowa is one of a handful of states that allows early voting prior to the election in November. Voting in Iowa started on September 27 and ran until Election Day on November 6th. “Elections are won in the Dirt of the Field,” said Lichtenfels reiterating the general motto for her campaign team.
Lichtenfels told the audience that Iowa was one of the most amazing places that she had ever visited. “Although there are many corn fields and picturesque farms, the state is predominantly urban and progressive,” said Lichtenfels. Going completely out of her comfort zone, she was nervous about going to Iowa without knowing anyone. However, she was pleasantly surprised by how quickly she acclimated to her surroundings. “The people in Iowa couldn’t be more genuine. It’s a pretty incredible place,” said Lichtenfels. She lived with a family whose son was also working on Obama’s campaign and they were very hospitable and understanding of her situation. In working in Iowa, Lichtenfels actually felt more connected to president Obama than she previously had. “There is a ton of significance for Obama. Iowa was where he started and it was an honor to see his last campaign for the election actually end in Iowa,” said Lichtenfels.
She went on to show the audience the importance of fieldwork in any campaign. “It is really important to live in the see the communities and understand how people live in order to understand voter registration,” said Lichtenfels. Iowa was separated into quarters and there were 4 offices working to promote voter registration and Obama’s campaign throughout Iowa. Lichtenfels believed that it was the fieldwork that won the Obama campaign. “Obama’s campaign, had more field officers in a ration of about three to one compared to the Romney campaign,” said Lichtenfels. Overall, there were 714 field offices for president Obama’s campaign compared to on 263 offices for governor Romney. However, she relayed to the audience the difficulties in rallying support for a candidate already in office because many voters continued to feel disillusioned by the current economic state of the country. “It is actually really hard to get people to rally around registration because we already had an established candidate. We found a lot of voters who had voted for Obama in ’08 but were unsure for this election,” said Lichtenfels. However, she took pride in knocking of doors and making phone calls.
Because voting starts to early in Iowa, Lichtenfels was rallying people to vote early from the minute she arrived in Iowa. “Republicans in general like to have a good turnout on Election Day where as Democrats like to focus on early election,” said Lichtenfels. They set up early voter registration sights at places including town halls, union halls and college campuses. Lichtenfels field group also organized concerts that were linked to early voting sites. In one particular college campus takeover in Iowa, Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen performed. After the performances, college students were allowed to vote at non-partisan early voting sites right on campus. “This was a really great way to rally college kids to vote because it was tying an exciting event to an early voting experience,” said Lichtenfels.
She went on to explain the most exciting but also nerve racking part of her experience in Iowa was known as GOTV. GOTV or get out and vote, is the last 4 days of the campaign before the election. “GOTV is a culmination of all the hard work we have been doing,” said Lichtenfels. She and other canvassers went door to door, reminding Iowans to vote and unpacking a plan with them.” I know it sounds crazy but we would actually ask people if they knew where their polling site was and asked how they were getting there. It is statistically proven to get people to vote,” said Lichtenfels. Although GOTV was very successful, Lichtenfels and her fellow canvassers were confident that they were going to win Iowa. “Going into election day, I was already confident that we were going to win,” said Lichtenfels. In this past election, the state of Iowa topped the 2008 votes by 43,000 and going into Election Day, Iowa had already received 137,355 votes due to early voting prior to the election. “There was an increase in turnout by 20.3 percent in Iowa in this past election,” said Lichtenfels. On election night, Lichtenfels felt pride in her country as well as the candidate that she had just spent the last few months endorsing. She stated that the most amazing part of winning for her office was being recognized by Obama for all their hard work. “It was important to work for a candidate who acknowledged and appreciated the work that we did,” said Lichtenfels.
Rose received four course credits for her open semester. Trinity offers an open semester program where students can study away from the college in which they are supervised and evaluated by a member of the Trinity staff. “Had it not been for my advisor, I don’t think that this incredible experience would have worked out,” said Lichtenfels. During the entire semester, she was in constant contact with her advisor Stefanie Chambers and together they worked to integrate the experience into her academic major at Trinity. Lichtenfels also has to have clear academic projects at the end of her campaign experience to receive credit for her open semester.
To end her presentation, Lichtenfels urged students to do an open semester at Trinity College. Similarly, she urged any students at Trinity College interested in politics to work on a campaign. “I am proud to have been apart of this whole experience. It has been the best grassroots campaign in history as of now. If you are in politics at all, I encourage you to work for a campaign,” said Lichtenfels. To learn more about open semesters at Trinity College, refer to the Trinity College