Campaign internship teaches cadet
that politics is no part-time job © Nov. 19, 2010, Norwich University Office of Communications
Considering 2010’s adversarial, overfunded campaign season, Ben Kinsley’s assessment of one candidate’s bid for the governor’s office in Vermont was refreshing.
Had Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, the unsuccessful Republican gubernatorial contender, remained focused on issues and stayed away from his opponent’s perceived leadership and character flaws in the final weeks of October, he might have won. This is the opinion of Kinsley, a sophomore at Norwich University who worked closely with the campaign as an intern from its early stages.
“Once it turned negative, it hurt us a lot,” he said.
A week or so following election day, Kinsley was philosophical about the Nov. 2 defeat by Democrat Peter Shumlin. It stung to lose a race that was tightly fought from the beginning—particularly since Dubie was ahead in polls before the frantic, final weeks. But he still believes in the candidate, and a loss hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm for politics.
It’s not a nine to five job. It’s a 24-seven job.
Norwich student Ben Kinsley,
on running for political office
“I guess what I took away was that that we try again,” he said. “We wait until 2012.”
A political science major and Vermonter who grew up an hour away from Norwich’s Northfield campus, Kinsley did not hesitate when he learned of the internship opportunity. In fact, he started working with the campaign during the summer, months before other college students signed on. His eagerness came from a genuine interest in Vermont government that started at a young age. He also consulted with the candidate in church beforehand.
“I’ve known him and his family for a long time,” said Kinsley. “I was really excited.”
The job started easily enough with a lot of phone calls, data entry and the assembly of “walking kits” for campaign workers who would be out in the fields, knocking on doors. As summer turned to fall, the campaign heated up and so did his responsibilities. Most weekends, he would help out at parades and public appearances, and then return to Northfield and surrounding towns to knock on doors himself. The face-to-face canvassing, Kinsley said, was initially awkward and really took him out of his comfort zone.
Despite working an area that substantially favored Dubie, he encountered people who were frustrated, struggling in the poor economy and opposed to a Dubie governorship. Some residents did not wish to acknowledge him, while others would talk his ear off. Some people really challenged him on the candidate’s positions and exactly what was being promised, he said.
“You had to be careful when you discussed policies ... but after a while it kind of became second nature,” said Kinsley, who is a member of the Corps of Cadets and leads a military lifestyle at Norwich, the country’s oldest private military college.
Jobs and the economy were the issues that people most wanted to talk about, he said, followed by taxes and government spending. Some were interested in education, but health care rarely came up in his canvassing district, which surprised Kinsley. He found it interesting to see how the information he gathered correlated with what polls were saying, particularly because he’s taking a class in research methods.
Prof. Cynthia Newton, a political science instructor and mentor of an internship program that oversaw his campaign work, said Kinsley’s merger of experience with academic discipline was the best thing she hopes a student encounters during an internship. She was impressed by the way the political theory he’s learning in class informed his “real-life” campaign observation, “To see that they really do benefit one another,” she said.
Engagement was never a problem with Kinsley, added Newton, who called him exceptionally passionate for a student trying to fit an internship into a tight schedule.
“He went way above the hours requirement,” said Newton. “I think he just really, strongly believed in the campaign and the candidacy of Brian Dubie.”
Justin Shaffer, field director for the Dubie campaign, concurred that Kinsley put his heart into the job.
“You would say, ‘we need this done.’ He’d get it done,” said Shaffer. “He’s a trooper.”
Wary of Washington, D.C., and the national scene, Kinsey hopes to find a career working in Vermont politics after graduation. He’s seeking another internship in the Vermont Statehouse, and considers whether he will run for office himself one day.
“It’s definitely stressful. It’s a lot of stress,” he said. “It’s not a nine to five job. It’s a 24-seven job.”