Clinton Visit Adds Luster to Students' Internships
Braving a sprinkling rain and skies that signaled an impending downpour, an enthusiastic crowd welcomed former President Bill Clinton, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and Democratic candidate for Congress Lois Murphy to Bryn Mawr's Thomas Cloisters on Wednesday, Oct. 11. Murphy is challenging Republican Jim Gerlach for Pennsylvania's Sixth District in one of the most closely watched races in the nation. As he launched into a half-hour speech, Clinton praised the beauty of the Bryn Mawr campus and thanked Murphy for giving him an opportunity to return to the College, which he had visited during his presidency in 1993.
Keeping a sharp eye on the crowd, which filled the Cloisters to capacity, were Claude Heffron '09 and Caroline Troein '09, members of the Bryn Mawr College Democrats, the student organization that hosted the campaign event. Heffron and Troein, along with Katie Sovonick '09, have been devoting about 20 hours per week to internships with the Murphy campaign since the beginning of the semester. Serving as liaisons between the campaign and the College for the event, they learned a great deal about the whirlwind pace of electoral politics.
Claude Heffron '09 and Caroline Troein '09 at the rally
Although the Clinton visit had been announced just a few days before, Murphy supporters turned out in numbers for the event, and, to Heffron and Troein's dismay, many Bryn Mawr students were initially turned away. When spaces later became available, the two frantically dialed friends' phone numbers and asked them to spread the word around campus.
Working on the campaign has been "a lesson in flexibility," Heffron says. "I've learned that there are certain things that are just beyond my control, and it's important to focus on the things I can do."
One thing students can do is vote, Troein says, and she hopes that the Clinton visit will spur a strong turnout from Bryn Mawr students on election day. "The race for the Sixth District is so close that it's actually possible that the Bryn Mawr vote could turn the election," she says. She believes that Clinton's visit, announced just days before the voter-registration deadline in Pennsylvania, sparked a flurry of registrations among Bryn Mawr students. Now the Bryn Mawr Democrats hope it will help them recruit volunteers to the campaign's get-out-the-vote effort in the weeks leading up to the election.
The speakers worked hard to persuade the crowd that its support is vital, Heffron says. "I think a lot of people showed up just to see Clinton, but they came away understanding just how important this race is to the direction our whole country will take," she says. Many observers consider the Sixth District race one of the Democrats' best chances to gain Republican seats in a bid to win control of the House of Representatives this fall.
Although their internships put heavy demands on their already-challenging schedules and their tasks are rarely as glamorous as hosting a former president, both students say that working for the campaign has reaffirmed their interest in politics.
"We are working with such great people," Troein says. "The other interns and the campaign staffers who supervise us are all so dedicated and full of purpose. It's a pleasure to spend time with them."
Says Heffron: "I have learned how much emotional effort politics can take. The issues that most interest me aren't necessarily important to other people, and it is sometimes challenging to spend whole conversations talking with voters about their issues when I'd rather talk about mine. But learning how to listen with an open mind is definitely a skill worth cultivating."
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