Volunteers work busy last days

Christina Chaey

At 10 p.m. on the eve of Election Day, Weinberg freshman Jonny Adair is trying to get in a nap. He’ll wake up at 2:30 a.m. to drive to the headquarters of U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk of the 10th Congressional District of Illinois, where he will be volunteering for 22 hours. He doesn’t know what he’ll be doing. But whatever it is, he’ll do it.

“My Kirk stuff is as involved as I can get, minus academics,” Adair said. “At this point, I can’t really get involved in clubs or anything because all my free time is going into doing Kirk stuff.”

Kirk, a Republican running for his fifth term in Congress, beat Democratic opponent Dan Seals in a highly contested race in 2006. Though Seals did not have national party support then, he has garnered the support of the Democratic Party in this year’s campaign.

That support includes the endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama, said Communication senior Jennifer Sawicz, who has worked with the Seals campaign since 2006.

Adair, who has volunteered with the Kirk campaign since 2002, is one of a small but dedicated group of Northwestern students who have been working on campaigns for Kirk or Seals. The surging interest among young voters and volunteers from this year’s presidential campaigns has been important to the congressional race, Sawicz said.

“Historically in the district, the youth political movement hasn’t been too important,” the political communications major said. “Thirty college students in the (10th) Congressional District can’t put a win through in November when there are so many other constituencies.”

Sawicz was one of 70 people between the ages of 16 and 23 to intern for Seals last summer, she said. She put in up to seven days a week, doing everything from knocking on doors and making phone calls to arranging media contacts and doing Web publicity via Facebook in order to engage young voters.

“I think the extent to which the presidential race trickles down to our congressional race is that more and more youth will be showing up to vote,” Sawicz said. “In record numbers we’re getting registered to vote and actually coming out to the polls.”

In addition to high numbers of registered voters, hundreds of high school and college students are coming out to volunteer for the campaign, said Elisabeth Smith, communication director of the Seals campaign, in an e-mail.

“Students understand the stakes couldn’t be higher in this election year and have turned out to ensure that their voices are heard,” she said.

Communication senior James D’Angelo, president of College Republicans, said he has been volunteering for Kirk every weekend since the beginning of the quarter. D’Angelo has been organizing a small group of about four or five volunteers who have regularly donated their time to the campaign effort through phone banking, canvassing or helping out with big rallies and events, he said.

Medill senior Amy Weiss said she does not expect the Kirk-Seals race to be a significant issue of interest to the greater student body.

“I think more people are interested in the presidential race or their home races,” the Seals campaign worker said. “But I think it’s important for students and young people to be more involved because these are the people who are representing them.”

Sawicz and Weiss have worked with Young Progressives for Dan Seals, a group of 10th District high school, college and graduate students that reaches out to young voters who have long had a relationship of “mutual ignoring” with district politicians, Sawicz said. Weiss, who is also doing some last-minute campaigning throughout the 10th District starting at 5:30 a.m., said she felt the youth vote has been largely underrepresented due to a lack of activism, until now.

“Young people can have a much more powerful voice than they initially thought,” Weiss said. “I think what we have to say is just as important as any other age group involved.”

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