UConn students volunteer in swing states

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a campaign stop at the Rochester Opera House, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, in Rochester, N.H. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Contrary to popular belief, some college students are not politically apathetic.

Take Ian Adomeit, a third-semester environmental engineering major at the University of Connecticut. Adomeit is a professed Bernie Sanders supporter, hoping that the liberal Senator from Vermont will make a run at the White House. Adomeit traveled to Burlington, Vermont, Keene, New Hampshire, Petersborough, New Hampshire, Concord, New Hampshire and Manchester, New Hampshire to volunteer for Sanders over winter break and various weekends.

“My favorite part of the experience has been meeting other inspiring Bernie volunteers who have all the reasons not to be there volunteering,” Adomeit said. “I campaigned with a man named Claire. He was 75 and was three years removed from two broken shoulders. We walked around in 30-degree weather knocking on doors. He does this every day.”

As is the case with any grassroots campaigning, Adomeit said that he had to learn how to deal with rejection.

“Some people are not interested in talking to canvassers, or in Bernie specifically,” Adomeit said. “I’ve learned to keep my head up and move on to the next door.”

Adomeit credits his enthusiasm and involvement on Sanders’ dynamism, and thinks that Sanders is the type of candidate that could rally widespread youth support.

“I think young people have grown up disillusioned with a generation of negative American politics,” Adomeit said. “Iraq War, Afghanistan, Wall Street crash, and more. What they see are government officials not being held accountable for their votes and getting away with serving special interests. Bernie has made them believe…they can make change.”

Marissa Piccolo, a sixth-semester political science and economics double major, has thrown her support behind Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Piccolo visited New Hampshire last weekend and will be there again this weekend as well.

Former president of UConn’s College Democrats and the co-founder of UConn for Hillary, Piccolo has idolized Clinton for years, and even had an opportunity to canvas for her through a carpool set up by Clinton’s national campus recruiting team.

Piccolo quickly realized that New Hampshire natives were not as excited as she was.

“For them, this is just another primary season,” Piccolo said.

Still, she found the work rewarding.

“Campaigning and canvassing isn’t the most glamorous job, but it’s the most effective way to get out there for your candidate, so I was really excited to go up and be a part of history,” Piccolo said.

Her day was kicked off by speeches from Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Congressman Joe Courtney at the Keene headquarters. After that, there was a short presentation on how to canvas, then Piccolo was dispatched with two other volunteers to knock on doors, picking up two packets and going in four-hour intervals to meet the people in each.

Piccolo’s favorite part was the interpersonal connections.

“There was this one woman, who, when I opened the door, said ‘Don’t even waste your time, I’m supporting Hillary.’ I just love speaking to the people there, and I felt like it gave me a more realistic view of the state of the race,” Piccolo said.

Apparently, Sanders’ headquarters were down the street. There was little animosity between the Sanders and Clinton camps, though.

“When you would be in the pizza shops getting lunch, you’d see people having their Hillary or Bernie gear on,” Piccolo said. “There was a good sense of camaraderie, I mean, we’re all democrats, I like Bernie, but I’m supporting Hillary.”

In this Feb. 3, 2016 file photo, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks in Derry, N.H. The State Department watchdog has found that former Secretary of State Colin Powell and the immediate staff of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also received classified national security information on their personal email accounts, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. said Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016. (John Minchillo, File/AP)

Piccolo is voting for Clinton because she finds her to be passionate and qualified. While she understands why some students aren’t interested in the election, she did her best to emphasize the fact that a difference can be made.

“I think it’s hard for young people to see the direct impacts that elected officials have on their lives,” Piccolo said. “It’s hard for people to make the connection, and of course Washington D.C. is very polarized. It’s my opinion that the only way to make it un-polarized is to get involved and have young voices heard, but that obviously could be discouraging for some people.”

Sanders is currently leading Clinton in New Hampshire 55.6 percent to 37.8 percent, according to a RealClearPolitics average of major polls. Piccolo believes this may be because “Bernie Sanders evokes a different kind of passion.” Despite this, Piccolo is still optimistic about her candidate.

“After Iowa – I’m a Hillary supporter – but seeing how close it was made me really proud to be a Democrat, to know we have such a vibrant race going on, so I’m just really looking forward to it, and I think the best candidate will win,” Piccolo said.

Adam Kuegler, a sixth-semester political science major and the vice president of UConn’s undergraduate student government (USG), spoke on his experience campaigning for Florida Republican Senator and presidential candidate Marco Rubio.

Kuegler traveled with UConn students, an alumnus and a high school student to New Hampshire. He has made three trips with this group to Nashua, Manchester and other areas. He went over winter break and last weekend.

“My favorite part of the experience was including younger members of the Republican movement,” Kuegler said. “One of our group members is a high school student from Connecticut who is heavily involved in politics. Seeing his excitement brought back memories of my first trips to New Hampshire as a high school student during the 2012 Republican Primary.”

Kuegler sees this as evidence that the Republican movement among young people is robust.

In terms of his time in New Hampshire, Kuegler credited Rubio’s campaign staff with being kind and helping the volunteers to meet the senator multiple times. Still, the most important thing Kuegler learned from the experience was the atmosphere of a swing state.

“Being in a key state like New Hampshire puts you in the moment. It helps you understand the importance of the situation. It reminds you of just how much is at stake in this election,” Kuegler said.

Marco Rubio’s message is what attracted Kuegler to New Hampshire.

“Marco Rubio understands what it's like to work your way up from humble beginnings. I believe that this experience grounds him. I was inspired by the Senator's announcement speech,” Kuegler said. “The Republican Party will be best served in 2016 by someone who can carry our message proudly and optimistically. Rubio's optimism and hope for the future inspire me and remind me of why I'm so proud to be a Republican and stand up for principles that lead to opportunity for all, regardless of background.”

It is Rubio’s perceived electability that most attracts Kuegler to his campaign, as well as his “message of hope.” For this reason, and momentum after his third-place finish in Iowa, Kuegler believes Rubio will win New Hampshire.

Kuegler also offered his take on why young people aren’t particularly active in politics.

“Perhaps people don't understand how much of a difference a few hours of volunteering can make,” Kuegler said. “Whatever the reason may be, I don't notice it so much with the Republican movement at UConn and in Connecticut. Young people are excited. We truly believe in the principles we fight for, and as a result, the College Republicans and the volunteerism of students for campaigns is stronger than ever.”

The FiveThirtyEight blog predicts that Rubio will come in second to Trump in New Hampshire, garnering 17.5 percent of the vote.


Sten Spinella is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email atsten.spinella@uconn.edu.