Out on the Campaign Trail with RESULTS Election Fellows
Moments after Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) finished speaking, the audience descended on the presidential candidate in a giant swell. Minh Nguyen and Nick Paul, Election Fellows with RESULTS, lurched forward with the crowd, trying to position themselves in the best possible way for contact. They had come to this event in picturesque Claremont, New Hampshire for a single reason: to get Rubio to commit to making global education and child nutrition a priority. It was now or possibly never. The primary was only weeks away.
As country music blared and the room lit up with flashing smart phones, Minh and Nick eyed the available exits. They calculated that Rubio would have to pass by them to leave the building. For the next thirty minutes, they peered through the swarm of people to make sure that he was still in view. Finally, there was an opening. They flanked Rubio on both sides. When he saw them, he knew exactly why they were there: he had heard from Minh and Nick throughout the campaign. He was ready with a response, and said he would assign one of his staffers to look into the issues they had repeatedly raised.
This up-close-and-personal approach is nothing out of the ordinary for RESULTS’ Election Fellows. In the months leading up to the New Hampshire primary, Minh and Nick crisscrossed the state on a nearly daily basis to speak with both Republican and Democratic candidates face-to-face. The goal was not only to engage presidential candidates on RESULTS’ global poverty campaign issues — from the global fight against diseases that are drivers of poverty like tuberculosis to childhood education and nutrition — but to get their committed support.
Minh, a soft spoken 25-year-old from Houston, described attending so many Jeb Bush rallies that the candidate once smiled and exclaimed: “Are you going to ask me the same damn question again?”
And of course that’s exactly what Minh was going to do. When Minh asked Bush about global education and child nutrition, the candidate chuckled and said: “I’ll tell you what … you’re going to be the designated guy I talk to during the transition!”
Minh asked if they could meet to discuss the issues further during the campaign. Bush laughed and replied that he had to get elected first.
“I like your doggone determination,” the candidate said as he smiled for a picture with Minh. “That’s what I got too.”
Minh not only gets to know the candidates themselves, but also members of their staff, who cheerfully greet him by name. At another campaign event that day, he exchanged breezy pleasantries with reporters from CNN and NPR. Minh is at once doggedly persistent and extremely low-key – a style that comes naturally to him and also happens to be extremely effective on the campaign trail.
“Sometimes I don’t even raise my hand, I just talk to the candidate afterwards. I try to be respectful and not get too much in their face,” he said.
Nick, a 26-year-old native of Concord, New Hampshire, takes a slightly more direct approach.
“You rocket your hand up during the Q&A and head straight to the handshake line after the event,” he said.
Despite their different styles and personalities, Nick and Minh are something of a dynamic duo on the campaign trail. They are also actively involved in launching a new RESULTS group in New Hampshire.
“I try to get out there as much as possible. It’s a small community in Manchester. The new RESULTS volunteers have all become my friends,” Minh said.
Putting down roots in strategically important states is a major objective of the Election Fellow project, said Carly Pildis, Senior Associate for Advocacy and Organizing at RESULTS.
“We are mobilizing communities and building RESULTS in the long term,” Pildis said.
And because of Minh and Nick — as well as additional Fellows in Iowa and South Carolina — every major presidential candidate has gone on record about poverty and what they will do about it. While only one will make it into the White House, most of the others will remain in prominent national positions.
“Even candidates who haven’t made a staunch commitment now know about these issues, and about RESULTS,” Pildis said.
This fall, the U.S. government has the chance to join world leaders in making a major financial commitment to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, supporting a plan to help save 8 million lives by 2019. But actually delivering on that commitment will be up to the next president. Thanks to the work of Minh, Nick, and the other Fellows, almost every leading candidate has already committed to do just that.
The same goes for securing commitments on education and nutrition. Not long after Minh and Nick had approached Rubio, an Election Fellow in Iowa found the candidate at an event there to ask if he would pledge his support. Rubio demurred, but Minh made sure to ask again when the senator paid another visit to New Hampshire. Rubio’s response? His staff in DC were still considering it.
It was a good start, and the Fellows had no intention of leaving it there. As Nick put it over lunch between campaign events, “The way to get things done is through grassroots activism.”
They continued to engage Rubio at several more campaign events in the weeks that followed, and he continued to give them the same answer. But then, four days before the New Hampshire primary, Minh approached Rubio one last time at a rally in Derry.
Finally, the candidate said the word that Minh and Nick had spent months hoping to hear: “Yes.”
Learn more and get involved with RESULTS and the 2016 election here.