Former president of the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union Chris Stoicheff spent his weekend in the battleground state of Virginia with hundreds of young Democrats doing some eleventh-hour campaigning for newly re-elected U.S. President Barack Obama.
Obama clinched the victory after taking Ohio, Iowa, Illinois, New Hampshire, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — the so-called midwest firewall that Republican candidate Mitt Romney was desperately trying to crack.
Virginia, also considered one of the critical swing states, was captured by Obama by a razor-thin margin.
Stoicheff travelled from Washingon, D.C. to Virginia Beach, Va., with about 1,000 students from nearby universities to help get out the vote just days before the Nov. 6 election. The group door-knocked registered Obama supporters and reminded them to cast a ballot as part of the president’s unprecedented ground game that pundits say played a vital part in the victory.
“The amount of young people that were there in Virginia was just out of this world,” Stoicheff said over the phone from Washington on election day. “I have never seen such an organized campaign.”
Stoicheff’s group of Obama supporters banged on roughly 90,000 doors over two days in the hotly-contested state. Virginia was a Republican stronghold until 2008 when Obama edged out John McCain. All strategists and pollsters leading up to 2012 election predicted that a win in Virginia would be a crucial piece of the puzzle for both presidential candidates.
“The democrats are well-known — especially Obama’s campaign — for success in getting out the vote and they were really counting on that today,” Stoicheff said.
“The Romney campaign just doesn’t have the youth support the Obama campaign still does.”
The Democratic Party paid for a hotel room, food and travel for Stoicheff during the weekend. It was his first time volunteering for the campaign.
Stoicheff also cold-called Republicans from a massive phone bank trying to persuade them to flip-flop political loyalties.
“I’ve never seen such a large group of people on their cell phones talking,” he said, laughing. “Literally 500 people in one room all randomly calling people in the state of Virginia.”
Talking to partisan Romney supporters allowed Stoicheff to witness first-hand just how tight the presidential race would be. Obama’s pro-choice stance on abortion and his economic policy were two of the biggest issues for Republicans, Stoicheff said.
However, he says Obama’s handling of the Superstorm Sandy crisis in New Jersey helped sway some on-the-fence voters on the East Coast. He talked about the bipartisan approach Obama and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took to bring much-needed aid to those affected by floods and power outages.
“I think congress could take a page out of [their] playbook on that one in order to start to get some things done on taxation and spending,” he said.
Stoicheff is working in D.C. as an intern set up through The Washington Center. The centre has internship opportunities for students interested in politics, business and journalism, among other subjects.
“This is a great opportunity for any student to get out of the province and get out of the country and see some other job opportunities,” he said.
Stoicheff is interning at former Canadian ambassador to the Czech Republic Paul Frazer’s high-powered Washington lobbying firm, PD Frazer Consulting. The firm works to advance the interests of its mainly Canadian clientele on Capitol Hill.
“It’s a really interesting process. Lobbying here is a lot more prevalent [than in Canada]. It’s a much more lucrative and substantive profession here,” Stoicheff said.
Recently, Frazer has been fighting a hard-nosed battle in the political trenches for the Alberta government. For the past two years, Frazer has lobbied with U.S. policymakers against clean energy bills that target the Alberta oil sands and the contentious XL Keystone Pipeline, which would pump oil sands bitumen from Canada to the southern states.
The opportunity to work in Washington has opened Stoicheff’s eyes to the complex world of backroom politics and specifically consulting.
“I find it to be very interesting. For me, I was always thinking after I graduate I would go into the public sector and work as a bureaucrat and stay on that side of things,” he said. “But this has really opened a new door for me to a different world where you can advise people about politics.”
On election night, Stoicheff planned to keep a steady watch on the results as they trickled in. He said he wanted to stop by the Democratic National Committee headquarters and see if they needed help getting supporters to the polls.
“I’ll also be hanging out with some friends from Canada who are down here,” he said. “We’ll probably be checking out the Washington Mall where there will be a pretty large gathering.”
File Photo: Pete Yee/The Sheaf