By Ari Massefski
The event hall at the Hilton in South Carolina's capital was packed. After months of campaigning and disappointing electoral results in Iowa and New Hampshire, things were finally turning in the right direction for the Gingrich campaign. At 7:01 p.m., the moment after the polls closed in South Carolina's Jan. 21 primary, multiple news organizations immediately declared former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich the winner of the primary.
"The place was packed, and you couldn’t even see across the room through the crowd of people," said Adam Savader, a GW student who serves as special assistant to the chief operating officer of the campaign. "We thought we were going to win, but when Newt arrived, that was probably the most exciting moment. It was definitely one of the best nights of the entire campaign."
Mr. Savader is one of several students at the George Washington University who have been behind the scenes with the race for the 2012 Republican nomination for president. He says that he has chosen to work for Mr. Gingrich because this election might decide the future of our country.
“As Speaker Gingrich has said, this is the most important election of our lifetime,” Mr. Savader said.
But while GW freshman Shoshana Weissmann agrees on the significance of this year’s presidential election, she isn’t so sure that Mr. Gingrich is the right candidate. A student in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, Ms. Weissmann has traveled to 10 different states volunteering for the campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
“Campaigns provide learning experiences,” said Ms. Weissmann. “For me, these experiences have been more valuable than any class I could ever take.”
An active participant in politics since she joined the Nassau County Young Republicans at age 14, Ms. Weissmann got her first experience with a political campaign in 2008 when she volunteered in a New York state Senate race. But Mr. Romney’s supporters, Ms. Weissmann said, are the most loyal and eager she has ever met.
“I’ve seen people nearly push each other over for a chance to meet the candidate,” she said. “Gov. Romney is the ideal citizen and the ideal leader.”
Ms. Weissmann is not alone in her support of the former Massachusetts governor. The Romney campaign asked GW junior Elie Litvin, who is studying political communication in the School of Media and Public Affairs, to lead D.C. Students for Mitt, an organization that brings together students from GW and American, Catholic and Georgetown universities. The Romney campaign also asked Mr. Litvin, who is originally from Brookline, Mass., to help gather college students to stand behind Mr. Romney when he made his announcement in Boston to run for president.
“It was clear how important the campaign feels students will be for the effort,” said Mr. Litvin. “It was a great day to be both a student for Romney as well as a Republican from Massachusetts, where he has done so much to grow the party.”
Mr. Litvin’s organization serves as a resource for the Romney campaign team in D.C.
“We are among the most active student groups nationally,” he said. “I represent the student message throughout the District and implement plans for social media. We’ve also organized a few campaign trips to help Romney get on the primary ballot in several states, and we’ve assisted with special events, including fundraisers.”
While his candidate was ultimately unsuccessful, junior Daniel Horning said his experiences volunteering for Jon Huntsman were invaluable. Mr. Horning, a student in the Elliott School of International Affairs, spent a chunk of his winter break volunteering for the former governor of Utah who dropped out of the race in January. Mr. Horning worked 16 to18 hours per day, traveling to events with Mr. Huntsman and even driving the governor and his family to an ABC News debate in Manchester, N.H.
“He was the only adult running for president,” said Mr. Horning. “He’s sensible and willing to listen to people who disagree with him, and I respect that in someone elected to public office. He is one of the few people I consider a statesman instead of a politician.”
Mr. Horning was able to provide GW students with a special experience in October when he helped bring Mr. Huntsman to speak on campus through his connections with the campaign. The event in Jack Morton Auditorium was filled to capacity, and an additional 260 people were turned away because the auditorium was full.
Mr. Horning said part of the reason he got involved in the campaign is because GW encourages students to become politically active.
“GW taught me how to examine political issues and articulate my own views,” said Mr. Horning. “The school encourages students to make the world our classroom.”
GW’s politically active student body and location in the heart of D.C. make it an ideal place from which to lead the D.C. Students for Mitt movement, said Mr. Litvin.
“As a political communication major in SMPA, my campaign work has certainly enhanced my ability to apply practical experience to the theory we are exposed to in the classroom,” said Mr. Litvin. “One of the unique things about SMPA is the practical knowledge we find from both students and faculty within the program, and I am happy to have the ability to contribute to that community.”
Mr. Savader, who works on the Gingrich campaign, is considering a career in law or politics, and he considers his GW education crucial to his work with the campaign.
“If I did not attend the George Washington University, I would not have had the opportunity to work on this substantive and solutions-oriented campaign,” he said. “One of the primary reasons I came to the university was due to my deep passion for politics.”
Mr. Savader began working for the campaign last June after writing to Callista Gingrich, the candidate’s wife, who put him in touch with the national campaign director. As special assistant to the chief operating officer for the campaign, Mr. Savader works full time at the campaign headquarters and is responsible for sending Mr. Gingrich a daily report. Before primary season began, Mr. Savader was still in classes at GW full time, but this semester he’s only able to take two night classes – a sacrifice Mr. Savader says has definitely been worth it.
“It’s been a great opportunity,” said Mr. Savader. “I’m having a great experience, and I’m meeting lots of good people. It’s important to get hands-on experience in politics, and that’s what I’m getting.”