At age 18, Webster University political science major Katie Lade has not had a chance to vote in an election yet, but one of her first political science classes led to her meeting a presidential candidate.
While volunteering in Iowa, Lade met Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, for long enough to take a selfie with each of them.
“We’re kind of friends now,” Lade joked. “She winked at me twice.”
This semester, Lade signed up for the Topics in the Obama Administration, taught by former Democratic Missouri Governor Bob Holden. On the first day of class, Holden told his students that if they were interested in volunteering for a presidential campaign, Democratic or Republican, he would help them find an opportunity to do so.
Lade, a Hillary Clinton supporter, said she was interested.
Lade went to Iowa, the site of the first opportunity for voting in the nation, to canvass for the Clinton campaign for four days.
Canvassing involves volunteers going door-to-door in search of a campaign’s likely voters, trying to make sure they will get to the caucus and, sometimes, trying to persuade voters who are still undedicated.
“I drove to Des Moines alone,” Lade said. “I walked into the room and everyone seems to know everyone else.”
At campaign headquarters, she met up with Holden, who was also in Iowa for the campaign. He introduced her to many of the people there.
Holden also went door-to-door for the Clinton campaign in Iowa, and he said he thinks meeting with individual voters can make a big difference in elections.
“They’re much more comfortable and willing to talk to you about their concerns and what they want,” Holden said.
Lade said the process was highly organized, and the information she received from the Iowans she visited was detailed and accurate. She said almost all of the Iowans she visited were Democrats, mostly those who were already supporting Clinton or leaning toward her.
“I came across two Republicans and I hit, like, 200 doors a day,” Lade said.
Though there were few undecided voters, Lade and her fellow canvassers met a Hispanic couple who were registered voters but had not picked a candidate because no one who had reached out to them spoke Spanish. One of the other volunteers was from Argentina. He made the case for Clinton, and they agreed to caucus for her.
The Iowa Democratic Party Precinct Caucus was a win for Lade’s candidate, but by the narrowest of margins. Clinton ultimately won by 0.2 percent.
“It was extremely nerve-wracking,” Lade said. “There was a lot of anxiety. Every two minutes, people were checking their phones.”
Clinton’s opponent in the race is Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a former independant who identifies as a Democratic Socialist. As a volunteer, Lade said she experienced the tension of the race firsthand. The two campaigns’ headquarters were across the street from each other, and Lade even ran into a former high school classmate who was volunteering for Sanders.
Lade said she was frustrated by the rivalry between the two campaigns, especially with Clinton or Sanders supporters who say that they will not vote in the general election if the other candidate becomes the nominee.
“We’re all Democrats,” Lade said. “You still have a voice; you still need to vote.”
For now, Clinton is her choice.
“She is knowledgeable on all topics,” Lade said. “We need people who understand foreign policy and understand how to compromise.”
Lade said the experience of volunteering for a campaign would be valuable for anyone.Holden agreed.
“The fundamental piece of our democracy is citizen participation and involvement,” Holden said.
Holden said while the Iowa caucuses can be chaotic, they serve a unique role in the presidential nominating process.
“It gives somebody that doesn’t have a lot of money nor a lot of exposure a chance to break out and make their case,” Holden said.
Lade said her favorite part of volunteering in Iowa was meeting people who had come from all over the country to support a common cause.
“It opens your mind,” she said. “You see so many different people who all have the same goal as you.”
Gwyneth Williams, another professor of political science at Webster, said volunteering for a campaign is a valuable experience many of her students had undertaken in the past.
“There’s no substitute for seeing in the real world the type of organization that has to be done in a political campaign,” Williams said.
Williams also said students who want to volunteer in some political capacity, but not with a particular candidate, can get involved with political action committees or other organizations dedicated to single causes.
“For many hot-button issues, there are standing interest groups that accept volunteers,” Williams said.
Holden said he believes every student and citizen should take the opportunity to be involved in political campaigns, which can give them a perspective that is not available in the news media.
“It’s one thing to read it,” Holden said. “It’s another thing to see it, live it.