PennDems
Credit: Varun Sudunagunta

Experts discussed their experiences on political campaigns and how students can get involved in politics at a panel hosted by Penn Democrats on Feb. 5.  

Panelists addressed student questions about what it’s like to work with candidates, the role of a campaign manager, and challenges they've faced. They expressed interest in offering jobs and internships to Penn students. Afterward, students were able to speak with the panelists personally.

The panelists were Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Congressional Committee David Marshall, Campaign Manager for Chrissy Houlahan's congressional campaign Rahul Kale, and Dan Siegel, the founder of Jefferson's List, a startup that aims to help people find jobs in politics.

Kale said political campaigning is a field in which young people can take on a tremendous amount of responsibility. 

"It's why the skinny kid with the big ears and the funny name became president of the United States," Marshall said about the importance of campaign management.  

Penn Dems has plans to bring in candidates for future talks and engage with both local and congressional races, Penn Dems Communications Director and College junior Jack Weisman said. He added that the club is trying to invite all the democratic primary candidates from the competitive congressional races in some Philadelphia suburbs, as well as candidates for lieutenant governor.

Last semester, student groups worked to encourage voter turnout at local elections. These efforts are in line with Penn Dems' focus on local politics in wake of the presidential election.  

Penn Dems has also increased its membership this year. Last month, Penn Dems President and Wharton sophomore Dylan Milligan told The Daily Pennsylvanian that 120 new members signed up this past fall, 100 of which were freshmen.

Kale explained that developing a functional relationship between manager and candidate is a difficult task, especially if there is a large age gap between them.  

“The average age of a congressional candidate manager is like 28, and the average age of a candidate is like 45,” Kale said. He added that some candidates distrust younger campaign managers — they wonder, “Who is this kid who is telling me how to do my job?”

Siegel said the best candidate realizes that “he is the football, not the quarterback."  

This led to ethical questions from the audience about highly-scripted campaigns and to what extent this violates constituents’ trust. “We don’t tell candidates what to say, we tell them how to say it,” Siegel said in response.

The panelists noted that there is no typical day as a campaign manager. Siegel joked that being a campaign manager entailed being part therapist and part manager. “All candidates are a little bit nuts because it’s a very unnatural state to be in,” he added.   

The panelists also stressed the fact that they would like to see more women in politics. Hannah Jeffrey, financial director for the John Fetterman campaign, asked the panelists, “Is [political campaigning] as much of a sausage fest as is going on right now?” 

Penn Dems member and College freshman James Nycz said he appreciated the networking opportunity the panel provided. 

“It’s something that’s helped me visualize what the career path is – not just what the job or internship looks like now, but what it will turn into,” Nycz said.

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