Student workers provide help on Nebraska Senate campaigns

Story and photos by Bryce Arens, NewsNetNebraska

Mairead Safranek works at the Deb Fischer field office in Lincoln. Workers answer phones from voters and prepare yard signs in the office.

It is 8 p.m. on a Thursday night and University of Nebraska-Lincoln junior Mairead Safranek is about to begin the second part of her day. She’s been at work at the Lincoln field office of the Deb Fischer for Senate campaign since 9 a.m.

A text message lights up her iPhone. A friend wants to know what she’s doing tonight. But there won’t be any partying tonight for Safranek; she still has a couple hours of homework once she gets home.

Safranek is one of 10 full-time college students working on the Fischer campaign. She began working at the campaign nine months ago in advance of the Republican primary. When Fischer won, she had a job for the fall semester and a wealth of new experiences.

“I can honestly say I have learned more in the last nine months working on the campaign, than I have in my first two years of school,” she said.

Both the Fischer and Bob Kerrey campaigns have gained help from more than one hundred student volunteers. Their responsibilities often include putting up yard signs, going door to door to promote the candidates and answering the phones at the campaign offices.

They bring energy to a campaign that is hard to duplicate, said, Fischer’s Field Director Jack Spray.

“In everything they do they bring enthusiasm and a spark to the campaign office,” he said. “Older people love to hear young voices on the phone and out at events that are excited about what they are doing.”

Fischer worker juggles many roles

Safranek’s responsibilities involve more than answering phones. As Fischer’s scheduling assistant, she takes messages and replies to requests for Fischer to appear. She spent a week with Fischer in the summer in western Nebraska and soon realized how demanding the schedule of a candidate can be.

“She (Fischer) gets up at 6 a.m. and goes until 12 and then wakes up and does it again,” she said. “It’s cool to see how much Nebraskans care about the state and what they see as important issues.”

Safranek works on her laptop and waits for calls in her personal office at the Deb Fischer campaign. The office features a map of the state of Nebraska on one wall and a "Team USA Parking Only" sign on the door.

Along with scheduling events, Safranek also coordinates more than one hundred high school and college students in the student ambassador program. The student volunteers answer phones in shifts at the field office to gain experience working on a campaign.

In addition to her other roles she is a student, an Ad/PR and political science double major who took only 12 hours this semester to work full-time on the campaign.

“She has sacrificed and dedicated herself to the campaign like few have,” Spray said. “She can be here from 8 to 10, which shows a lot of self-sacrifice and hard work.”

Kerrey worker gains experience on first campaign

In the northern part of the state Christian Gobel is putting in the same amount of work for the Bob Kerrey campaign. Gobel, a sophomore at Wayne State College, has been working for the campaign since April. He is only taking two classes to devote more time to his internship at the campaign.

Each day he calls his boss, who lets him know what group of voters to call or where sings need delivered. He also has walked in parades and help set up events for Kerrey’s campaign.

“It really has shown me how campaigns operate and the attitudes of voters in Nebraska,” he said.

A native of Tekamah, Gobel got interested in politics in junior high when he saw family friends join the military and head to Iraq. This led him to analyze why troops were being sent to war and sparked his interest in foreign policy. Gobel, a political science and economics major, has learned a lot from his experiences on the Kerrey campaign.

“It has shown me the different views that politicians take and how voters respond to those,” he said.

Campaigning from a young age

Safranek also got interested in campaigns when she was younger. Current Nebraska Congressman Jeff Fortenberry is a family friend and her family helped him campaign for offices in the 90s. When Fortenberry ran in 2004 for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, Safranek found out how much a vote means. Her mother, who had moved from the United Kingdom 25 years before, wanted a chance to vote for him. In order to do that she had to give up her citizenship in the UK and apply to be a U.S. citizen. It was during that process that Safranek got interested in politics.

“Going through the citizenship process with her was so in-depth and interesting, and I think that is what triggered it originally,” she said. “It showed me how much a vote really means to people.”

As she packs up her things and prepares for her second shift as a student, Safranek said she is thankful for her schedule, no matter how grueling.

“I am getting experience while in college that kids my age have a hard time understanding and for that I am proud.”

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