Flagler students lend local GOP helping hand

By Alexa Epitropoulos | gargoyle@flagler.edu

It may look like just another nondescript unit in a strip mall, but on the inside, the office of the St. Johns Republican Party teems with activity.

At the nucleus of the action are the volunteers who seek to make a Florida victory for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney possible. Their tasks range from making phone calls to constructing “Romney/Ryan” yard signs to occasionally going door-to-door.

While the volunteers at the GOP Headquarters represent various walks of life, several Flagler College students and first-time voters contribute to the day-to-day bustle.

Tiffany Dawson, a senior at Flagler, said that her experience at the GOP Headquarters transformed from a class assignment to a useful experience.

“It really personalizes my vote,” Dawson said. “Before, I knew I was going to vote for Romney and I knew why I was voting for Romney, but there’s something very compelling about actually investing yourself in pursuance to get him elected.”

Dawson works at the office several times each week and estimates that she has made about 1,000 phone calls to St. Johns county voters thus far. The main goals of the phone calls include facilitating the voting process through sending absentee ballots and encouraging early voting.

Dawson said the participation of volunteers has been vital when it comes to gaining voter turnout. This turnout could make a difference in Florida, a swing state that carries 29 electoral votes.

“I think it’s probably a lot harder to work in a swing state,” Dawson said. “There’s a lot of weight on each particular office.”

Her time volunteering with the GOP Headquarters has resulted in colorful experiences as well. Among them, a 30 minute phone call with a Romney supporter who attempted to convert her to the Church of Latter Day Saints.

“It includes a lot of interesting things because we’re dealing with the public,” Dawson said. “There’s no lack of diversity on our phone calls.”

Making phone calls is one of the most frequently used methods used to connect with voters on a personal level. According to Mark Lacey, a sophomore at Flagler, the good comes with the bad when making these connections.

“You’re going to get those people that aren’t the happiest and then you’ll make someone’s day,” Lacey said. “Sometimes someone will say ‘Thank you so much for calling me and letting me know there’s still hope out there.’ ”

Becky Reichenberg, state committeewoman for the GOP Headquarters, and a campaign worker inside the St. Johns Republican Party office

Lacey, who has interned at the GOP Headquarters throughout the fall semester, said becoming involved in the political process has given him experiences he did not expect.

“I would never imagine being invited to be on stage at a political rally and I was,” Lacey said, referring to Ann Romney’s recent campaign stop in Jacksonville. For Lacey, the internship with the GOP Headquarters has opened doors for him when it comes to future employment.

Lacey, who said that the issues of most concern to him are job creation and pro-life causes, encouraged others to volunteer or work for a campaign, stating that it provides a unique opportunity to become involved in the political process.

“You have to understand that you’re electing these people that are going to hold your voice,” Lacey said. “That’s why you want to elect the right person.”

Dawson and Lacey are just two of the many volunteering and working at the GOP Headquarters, which has transformed into a grassroots community outreach in the months leading up to the November 6 General Election.

Becky Reichenberg, the state committeewoman for the GOP Headquarters, said that many Flagler College students factor into the group of 50 core volunteers. Many more, however, belong to the group of volunteers who come in to help on an occasional basis.

Reichenberg said that volunteers have flexible schedules and, instead of setting up specific times to work, are encouraged to contribute time whenever they can.

“Just like one vote matters, one volunteer can make the difference by making phone calls and just talking to friends and family,” Reichenberg said.

Reichenberg, who has been involved with the GOP Headquarters since 2004, said that working with a political campaign or effort often leaves volunteers with a sense of satisfaction.

“Even if a candidate doesn’t win, the volunteers come away with the satisfaction that they have done all they can do,” Reichenberg said.

Beyond the political process, Reichenberg emphasized the importance of heading out to the polls, either before or on Nov. 6.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, rich, poor, what background you come from, whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican,” Reichenberg said. “It matters that you exercise your privilege to vote.”

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