The Making of a President

The Making of a President

Candidates lean on Colbians in bids for the White House

By Allen Lessels


Each day from 3 to 7 p.m. is the time for “trip calls.”

“It’s the Chicago team checking with the New Hampshire team, the Maine team, the South Carolina team, the Florida team—wherever he’s going to be in the future,” Beliveau said. “It’s their chance to report how the day went and what challenges they’re facing, and a chance for headquarters to download information.”

Events range widely in scope.

John McCainBeliveau was especially happy with one that came together quickly in Concord, N.H., to announce that Obama was receiving an endorsement from New Hampshire Congressman Paul Hodes.

The advance staff found a site, got the sound, and helped build a crowd through phone-banking, leafleting, and signs.

The success of the event reflected the capabilities of a well-oiled machine—a professional campaign team that can pull off a big event in a little time.

Picher, also in advance, said they’re still talking in Madison, Wisconsin, about an event the Kerry team put together a week before the 2004 election. Bruce Springsteen was a featured guest and the lawns of the state capitol were the site. Problem was, only about 20,000 people would be able to see Kerry and Springsteen, and the team Picher was on expected many more than that to come out.

So they negotiated with the mayor and city councilors and others and were allowed to move the stage and event six blocks, opening sight lines for the anticipated turnout. Picher said 100,000 people showed up.

“It was on the cover of most newspapers in America,” he said. “It was everywhere. ... A week prior to the election, if you sent eighty-thousand people home without being able to see the guy, maybe you’re not doing the campaign the greatest service.”

Kerry won in Wisconsin.

From there Picher went to Boston to set up the victory event stage for what he and Cuzzi—also doing Kerry advance—and Beliveau and the rest of the Kerry campaign believed would be a victory gala. “My job was to map out where they were going to stand in celebration, waving, all that stuff,” Picher said.

He and Cuzzi met outside the Union Oyster House at Faneuil Hall, a traditional stop for Kerry on election day, and soon the candidate’s motorcade rolled up.

“It looked like we were well on our way to winning,” Picher said. “You do your best to keep it in check, but when the folks who know, the ones who have the internals, start saying that and are confident, you let yourself start feeling pretty good.”

They were feeling rotten later that night.

“Eventually, you pick up and move on,” Picher said. “And you either go at it again or not.”

Picher moved on to finish his law degree and M.B.A. He’s now working at a Toronto law firm and will take the bar exam soon. He does plan to take a six-week leave to work for Obama—rejoining Beliveau and Cuzzi on the campaign trail. He knew he’d be back.

Picher, who can’t seem to stay away from campaigns, was on his way to being an English major at Colby. Then Professor Corrado provided a pivotal moment in Picher’s career. It was 1995 and the professor had heard from Abigale Knapp ’93, who was seeking interns for Kerry’s senate race against former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld.

Picher had planned to spend Jan Plan in 1996 working on Bill Clinton’s campaign in New Hampshire.

“Corrado said ‘every kid in America wants to be an intern with Bill Clinton,’ and that I should work for John Kerry,” Picher said. “If he hadn’t walked up to me that day in Miller Library, my whole life might have taken a different track.”

He’s not alone. “I marvel at that,” he said. “I remember one time Cuzzi and I ran the numbers. There was Katie Harris and Spencer Hutchins [’03] and Emily Boyle [’06] and Emmett Beliveau and Cuzzi and myself and two or three other people on the Kerry campaign. We tried to figure out how many Yalies and people from Harvard there were, and we realized we were probably the most-represented school in the whole campaign. It was informal, but that’s the way it seemed. We had all these employees from a tiny, little school. I don’t remember the Bowdoin kids, the Middlebury kids. They weren’t there.”

The switch into government paid off. “We had a talented group of professors at Colby,” Picher said. “I credit Corrado for motivating me to do more and to figure it out more and get involved. And there’s something about the fact there are Colby kids all over the 2008 campaign.”

The Colby connections and extraordinary civic engagement opportunities that they lead to do not seem to be slowing. Two current students are on leaves of absence from Colby to sample the heady world of national presidential campaigns. Mark Jablonowski ’10 of Anchorage, Alaska, and Matt Warshaw ’08 of Wellesley, Massachusetts, worked for Obama as interns this summer. Both were hired on as staff.

Welcome aboard. The Colby campaign train rolls on.

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