The Making of a President

The Making of a President

Candidates lean on Colbians in bids for the White House

By Allen Lessels


 

It was a week later that Cuzzi found a few minutes to continue the conversation. He was in his office in Obama’s Manchester headquarters, a sprawling space in a renovated two-story brick building that houses Queen City Dental out front. He said the most recent Obama visit to New Hampshire had been a success.

John EdwardsOn Labor Day, after an appearance at an AFL-CIO breakfast, the senator had rolled out a new stump speech in a morning rally in Manchester. He paraded in a Labor Day gala in Milford. “It’s something fun and different, and it’s one of those things,” Cuzzi said. “You can’t be in New Hampshire on Labor Day and not be in the Milford parade. Every candidate who was in the state was there, and those that weren’t still had a presence.”

he ice-cream social in Hudson. A private dinner for raffle-winning donors, a roundtable discussion on government reform the next morning, followed by a house party.

“The traditional New Hampshire house party,” Cuzzi said. “Retail politics at its best. ... People want to be able to look the candidates in the eyes and they want to ask them the tough questions and get a sense of who they are and what they believe.”

Part of Cuzzi’s role (he doubles as Obama’s New Hampshire political director and deputy state director) is to get Obama in front of the people.

His job, in part, is to balance the house parties with the larger ice-cream socials and the even bigger events, like a rally at Dartmouth in late May that drew an overflow crowd at the college’s Nelson A. Rockefeller Center courtyard. The campaign estimated that throng to be about 6,000 strong, and it makes a compelling photo on Cuzzi’s ever-present BlackBerry.

A longtime admirer of Obama, Cuzzi left Tom Allen’s U.S. Senate campaign in Maine and signed on early for this presidential run. He came down from Portland in February 2007, and the state’s campaign began out of his small apartment in Manchester.

No signs on the walls, no desks, just four folding chairs,” Cuzzi said with a laugh. “Mostly it was getting here and initially trying to get on the ground and build all of our political relationships. My role is just to make sure that the campaign is as engaged as possible with all the different groups and elected officials and party officials. And making sure that I’m constantly aware of any political news or situation or anything we need to be responsive to here.”

And at times to keep Barack Obama on task.

That’s why, while Obama finished up a pre-scooping speech on the ball field, Cuzzi gripped a set of supporter cards in his hand and made sure the candidate got sight of them. As he closed, Obama, on cue, urged all those in the crowd to sign up to help out.

Cuzzi chuckled about the reminder.

“It was just to prompt him,” he said. “It makes a big difference. He moves the ball down the field and signs people up.”

That’s the goal, of course.

Moving people to action. Getting them to sign up. Getting them to come into the office at night and make phone calls and mail postcards and cover the walls with posters and sayings and photos—all done to move even more people.

Moving them to donate cash and more time. Organizing them to knock on doors. Later, to make more urgent phone calls as election day approaches.

“You kind of get the itch. It sticks with you, and people keep coming back. A campaign is very addictive. ... I think I probably knew last summer [in 2006] that as 2008 was cropping up I probably had one more cycle in me. But do I think I’ll still be doing it in four years? I’d probably say no. But one never knows.”
-Katie Harris ’02
Finally, to get out the people and move them to vote.

Specifically, to vote for Barack Obama, hope Cuzzi and fellow Obama staffers Emmett Beliveau ’99 and Jean-Michel Picher ’96.

To vote for Republican Congressman Ron Paul, hopes Patrick Semmens ’05.

To vote for Senator John McCain, hopes Steve Bogden ’05.

To vote for Senator John Edwards, hopes Katie Harris ’02.

To vote for Senator Joe Biden, hopes Mark Paustenbach ’01.

To vote for Senator Sam Brownback, hoped an alum who was in that campaign while it lasted.

Not all these campaigners were able to talk to Colby about their experiences, but several did. And from both sides of the aisle they credited mentors at Colby.

Yes, getting back to that question at the Labor Day rally, it does seem that Colby—thanks to its Government Department and the likes of professors Anthony Corrado, Sandy Maisel, and Cal Mackenzie—does have more than its share of folks who cycle back into the passionate, adrenalin-fueled, and harried lifestyle of presidential campaigns, shaping and pushing the candidacies of those who would be the next President of the United States.

 
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