In a dead heat
When Chris Tuggle, a 20-year-old Student Action Team Leader, was assigned by Generation Joshua to help a candidate named Geoff Davis in Kentucky, his first thought was, "What am I getting myself into?"
As Chris and his coleaders, Rachel Williams and Mark Leichliter, arrived in Kentucky, the most recent poll showed Davis trailing his opponent, Nick Clooney, by three points. "The campaign recognized that they needed to bring in extra energy," Chris said, "especially in those last crucial days, to make sure that Davis could get across that finish line."
The GenJ leaders could feel the energy and excitement building with the arrival of each of the 50 students assigned to the Davis campaign. Arriving on Wednesday, November 27, the team members came from nine states. Most were high school age (1418), although a few younger students came with older siblings or parents.
Davis' staff divided the GenJ students into smaller subteams. Then they assigned the groups precincts to walk and armed them with maps, lists of houses to visit, and literature to drop off. They also organized phone banks for the students to workcalling individuals and reminding them to vote.
|Geoff Davis takes time to thank one of the youngest members of his campaign team—Tanner Christian, brother of GenJ member Chad Christian.|
Chris served as the liaison between the GenJ students and the campaign. Together with Rachel, Mark, and the GenJ parents, he kept the students organized and busy implementing the campaign's plans each day.
According to Chris, the teams accepted their challenging assignments with enthusiasm. "Some were getting up at six o'clock in the morning to stand in the rain and wave signs at street corners. We'd get them back in two hours later to get some coffee or hot chocolate in them and warm their cold bones, and then they'd want to be out there again."
"The campaign staff was amazing in keeping the students geared up," he added. "On Saturday, after everyone had been campaigning for 1012 hours in the rain, the staff surprised our students by taking them to a sports complex for the evening, joining them in pizza, bowling, and basketball. Then we took all of the students to church Sunday morning. They were ready to just get out there and hit the streets. The students' morale was so high that they were running from house to house on Monday. Although it was windy, cold, and raining, nothing dampened these students' spirits. After you've been putting in 8- to 12-hour days, you start to get worn out. And those last 48 hours are crucial. As you get close to that finish line, you've got to give it everything you've got."
"We worked together with one mission," explained 15-year-old GenJ student Krystle Tuggle (Chris' younger sister) from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. "We knocked on over 40,000 doors, waved banners for hours in the rain, and met wonderful voters in the state of Kentucky. They were amazed we were there and it was a privilege to help their state."
GenJ student Jonathan Cooper (age 16) from Maryville, Tennessee, recounted one of his most memorable moments from the campaign: "We walked up to this elderly lady's house in a subdivision, knocked on her door, and talked to her for just a couple seconds. At that time, she told us that she was a Democrat and wasn't planning on voting for any Republicans. Her house was on a cul-de-sac, so by the time we visited all the other houses around the cul-de-sac and started walking back, we had to pass her house again. This time she was in the garage. She called me and my partner to come over and gave us ice cream sandwiches and something to eat. She said, You guys have convinced me to go vote at least for Geoff Davis. I've been getting so many phone calls from Democrats telling me to go vote, but you guys were the only ones who were out walking.' It kind of made it all worthwhileall that walking we did."
The students were energized to walk neighborhood after neighborhood by a couple of factors, Chris noted, such as friendly competition between subgroups and a sense of knowing their candidate personally.
|Working together with one mission: About 50 GenJ students campaigned hard for Geoff Davis.|
As the students learned more about Davisthat he is a small business owner and homeschool father of six, grew up in a single-parent home, attended West Point, became an Army Ranger, served in the Middle East, and built his own business from the ground upand as they became familiar with his pro-family, pro-homeschooling policies, their focus changed from working on a campaign to elect a good candidate , to working to elect Geoff Davis. "He wanted to make a difference for what he believed is right," Chris said. "And that enthusiasm spread to his staff and to our students. Every chance that Geoff could take to give them an encouraging word or stop by or say something, he didthat's not easy with a large campaign.
"At the campaign party late Tuesday night, nobody wanted to leave. The students were so jazzed up that they were ready to do it all again."
|Importance of Davis vs. Clooney|
The Davis/Clooney campaign was closely watched because it represented a key strategy of the Democratic Partyto bring a big name and big money into a small area, especially a rural area, to win a "smaller seat." That strategy has succeeded in larger markets (such as Hillary Clinton's bid for one of New York's Senate seats), Chris observed.
Davis' opponent, Nick Clooney, was a familiar, almost grandfatherly, figure to Kentucky's 4th District natives who had grown up watcing him on the six o'clock news from nearby Cincinnati every night.
On the other hand, Geoff Davis had minimal name recognition. He lost the 4th District by six points two years earlier to a fairly conservative Democrat incumbent.
Chris contends that Davis isn't a career politician; he's simply a small business owner from Kentucky who wants to make a difference for his state. "I think that came through to the votersrunning for Congress isn't a game or a political stepping stone for Geoff Davis. He's just concerned about where his state was going on a number of issues. So I think for the people of the 4th District of Kentucky, that made a huge difference. Geoff Davis' victory demonstrated that the Democrats' strategy isn't going to work here."
In a special early-morning sendoff the day after the election, Geoff Davis thanked the GenJ students for their hard work and sacrifice. He told them that on the day they arrivedthe Wednesday before the electionhe was down by three points. He won by 11 points. And he credited eight of those points to the difference made by the students.
Working the Davis campaign was one week of intense effort, camaraderie, and sacrifice for every GenJ student, parent, and team leader involved. For many of these kids, the experience of this one week will impact their lives well past that Election Day victory.
|Working with the Davis campaign, GenJ students got the chance to personally interact with many political leaders and learn firsthand from their experience.|
Jonathan Cooper admitted that when he arrived in Kentucky, he knew that there "was a Republican Party and a Democratic Party. But coming out, I'd learned that there were a lot more things that went into campaigns besides the candidates just out there campaigning. There are all the grassroots-level people out there campaigning, too."
"I grew up in a conservative home," he continued, "and the most important thing I learned from this experience is that there are people out there who hold totally opposite viewpoints from mine and they think their viewpoints are very true, as much as I think my viewpoints are true. We had some good conversations. I think my partner and I knocked on about 4,800 doors total during the campaign."
Malinda Tuggle (Chris and Krystle's mother) came to assist with driving and chaperoning the GenJ team members on the Davis campaign. She explained, "I wanted my daughters Krystle (15) and Courtney (13) to be directly involved in a United States congressional election. The decisions made by Congress are extremely important for our country. Too many times, the media focuses on the presidential role and we neglect to help our children understand the vital role of Congress."
"I saw the difference that it made in the students' lives, in terms of their willingness to take a stand on an issue, to get behind a candidate, and to give time for the future of the nation," Chris concluded. "They saw that through their hard work, they are making a difference and putting somebody in office who, even though he's not necessarily going to represent them (because they're out of state), he is going to uphold what they believe. And who knows what students may be inspired by this experience with a vision for serving their own communities through politics or other fields."