Campaigning at the Deadline: Experiential Learning with LEAP

By Brian Aldaco

With early elections around the corner, more and more  candidates on the November ballots are upping the ante in order to secure a victory this November 8th. This is especially true of Congressman Will Hurd’s campaign in District 23 against Pete Gallego, which has made it the most contested district in Texas. As Congressman Hurd’s re-election campaign draws to a close, Republican officials from varying levels of government have assisted in his efforts, including Paul Ryan, Gregg Abbot, Tom Mechler (Chairman of the Texas Republican Party), and others.

This past Friday, Congressman Pete Olson and his staff flew from DC to join the list of party officials to contribute to the Republican success in the district. Among the staff members and the Congressman who convoyed from Sugar Land to Del Rio there was a group of volunteers ready and eager to help in Hurd’s Campaign.  I spent my Friday afternoon completing the six-hour trip down to the border town of Del Rio and canvassing in favor of Congressman Hurd on Saturday.Congressman Will Hurd, SHSU, LEAP, Brian Aldaco, Pete Olson

With staffers located in DC, many of those in the convoy were more than happy to finally be in their home state of Texas, Congressman Olson included. On the way to Del Rio I was placed with a volunteer from Richmond (a retiree who had worked for the TSA in DC, the Corrections Board in Baltimore, and traveled around the world), a District Director for Congressman Olson, and a DC intern (freshly graduated from A&M who was among those ready to indulge in the Texas spirit). Passing through old Texas towns, vast free-range pastures, and some barren patches, the road became longer and lonelier as we got near border. From pines and oaks, the landscape turned into shrubs, sand, and mesquites, a desolate land with a few settlement’s along the way. After crossing the border patrol check point, marking the 25 mile mark before arriving to Mexico, we remarked how there was still no signs of civilization as we neared Del Rio. Eventually however, we neared a medium-sized building which advertised fajitas and tortilla chips; we had finally entered Del Rio.

As our first time in Del Rio for all of us, and the first time that close to the border for most, Ms. Dana Benoit (Congressman Olson’s campaign manger) deemed it apt, some may say necessary, to dine with a feast of Mexican cuisine. So being we entered Manuel’s Steakhouse, where those DC émigrés relished upon the savor of fajitas, tacos, and margaritas (a taste of authentic Mexican which they had long been waiting for). With conversation about the hectic DC lifestyle, the night soon came to an end. We then retired to our hotel rooms to rest and get ready for the block-walk-filled Saturday.

Upon waking up in the little Del Rio hotel, we packed our bags and met inside the local Chick-Fil-A. There we met campaign staffers from the Hurd team, Hurd’s Chief of Staff included. After a briefing of the day’s plan, and some words of encouragement from Congressman Olson, we climbed into our assigned cars and immersed ourselves within the Del Rio community.

hurd_campaign_walking_web

The team I was assigned to included Stoney Burke (Congressman Hurd’s chief of staff) and Jorge (a student from the University of Houston), who had traveled with us from Sugarland. With a majority hispanic constituency, Being able to speak Spanish was a real benefit for Jorge and me because we were able to communicate better with the voters we met during the day. Like any other block-walking operation, however, the number of constituents that answered the door was minimal. However, those that did answer were friendly and cared about their community, considering it highly important to choose the best to represent them at DC. Through meeting with constituents we learned how their major concerns rested on border security, adequate care of veterans, and the proper maintenance of Highway 277. We continued block walking, driving through houses of all shapes and sizes that resembled Mexican architecture, until we finished two sets of walk books.

hurd_campaign_brian_walking_2_web

With only a few constituents declaring that they will not vote for Hurd, those from the Hurd and Olson campaign alike considered the day a very positive indicator of what the results would be come November 8.

After we all finished our assignments, we regrouped at Chick-Fil-A to get ready for our drive back to Sugar Land. We then said our goodbyes to the Hurd Campaign, extremely grateful to help Congressman Hurd, and bid farewell to Del Rio. With the sun bearing its last rays on the endless pastures of green and hay, we sped through highway 90 en route to Sugar Land. As we left the border town we sympathized with that dimming twilight which shone its last glimmering lights to make way for the unknown night. With such an uncertain presidential election, all we can do now is wait for November 8th to come and hope that our contributions will at least yield victory at the local level.

hurd_campaign_brian_walking_web

The LEAP Center does not engage in partisan politics.  The Center does provide internship and volunteer opportunities for students.  In the past two years, we’ve worked with students who have interned or volunteered for the Democratic, Republican, and Green Parties. 

Author: mikeyawn

Mike Yawn teaches at Sam Houston State University. In the past few years, he has taught courses on Politics & Film, Public Policy, the Presidency, Media & Politics, Congress, Statistics, Research & Writing, Field Research, and Public Opinion. He has published academic papers in the Journal of Politics, Political Behavior, Social Security Quarterly, Film & History, American Politics Review, and contributed a chapter to the textbook Politics and Film. He also contributes columns, news analysis, and news stories to news stories, having contributed more than 50 pieces in the past year. Yawn is also active in his local community, serving on the board of directors of the local YMCA and Friends of the Wynne. Previously, he served on the Huntsville's Promise and Stan Musial World Series Boards of Directors. In 2007-2008, Yawn was one of eight scholars across the nation named as a Carnegie Civic Engagement Scholar by the Carnegie Foundation.

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