Political pilgrimage: Young volunteers make their way to Iowa

Philip Anselmo

Greg Hauenstein showed up at the Des Moines, Iowa, campaign headquarters for Illinois Sen. Barack Obama in August with a video camera under his arm, an air mattress in his backpack and a hell-bent ambition to become the next great political filmmaker.

The 23-year-oldfrom Canandaigua found an apartment in Des Moines online before he left. That was all he needed — no promise of work, no well-connected friends, no guarantees. Fresh out of Pittsburgh Filmmakers School, Hauenstein was ready for some real, raw experience.

The Obama campaign took him on as a volunteer, said his mother, Margaret, but before long he was on the payroll. Some of his work has already made it onto MSNBC, she said. One of his videos climbed the ranks on YouTube; it shows a Democratic supporter swapping a Sen. Hilary Rodham Clinton campaign sign in her front yard for one touting Obama.

“It beat out Britney Spears that day for the most hits,” said his mother.

Twenty-year-old Naples native Sam Sherwood also got the political itch. He took off for the Midwest just a couple of days ago. He and longtime friend Seth Herman landed in Des Moines on Wednesday afternoon on their way to Fort Dodge. On the flight from Chicago, reporters swarmed in droves around the two activists.

“In the airport, I talked to a guy working for a London political magazine,” said Sherwood. “On the plane, the woman sitting next to me was from a German paper, though she works out of Washington.”

Whoever said young folks are apathetic about politics? In 2004, the number of 18- to 24-year-olds voting in the presidential election rose by 25 percent. In fact, the youthful vote nearly caught up to the age bloc that votes the most: senior citizens. Voters over the age of 65 totaled 23 million that year, while 18- to 29-year-olds totaled 20 million.

Supporting that youthful enthusiasm, back in Naples, was Leanna Landsmann, who categorized herself as a political junkie and a typical “boomer activist.”

Contacted by friends working for the Obama campaign to find volunteers unfazed by snowy country roads, she turned to the Naples boys, Sherwood and Herman, with an offer to sponsor them to Iowa by buying tickets, making the arrangements and dropping them off at the airport.

“The best thing we could do for the country is send a couple of smart young people who could actually stay up 80 hours straight,” said Landsmann, herself a veteran of such campaigns.

“I was a little jealous,” she admits. “But I was not jealous of the travail in their trip of getting out there. ... I have done the unglamorous stuff.”

What sort of unglamorous stuff?

“They are looking for volunteers to do everything that needs to be done,” said Sherwood. “Standing out on the street, knocking on doors ... driving people to the caucus, offering baby-sitters ... making sure as many people as possible can go to the caucus.”

They can also expect to shovel sidewalks and help senior citizens get to their cars, or hand out mugs full of hot apple cider. (It should be below freezing there.)

Mark Hauenstein may be doing much of the same today. He took off for Iowa the day after Christmas to join his brother, Greg, to volunteer with the Democratic campaign machine. The 16-year-old was not as fervidly political until the Obama campaign caught his attention a little less than a year ago.

Then he got an e-mail seeking students willing to join the cause.

“I had watched videos about Senator Obama and I thought he was cool, a good guy, and he needed to be president,” said Mark Hauenstein. “And when I got the e-mail, I decided, hey, why not.”

Now he is entering canvassed statistics into a computer database. Sound like fun?

“There is not a lot of time for fun, but the whole time is fun,” he said. “Fun in a different way.”

Sure, he can’t vote. He knows that. But that is one of the reasons he is out there

“I’m trying to convince other people to go to caucus for me,” Mark said.

Contact Philip Anselmo at (585) 394-0770, Ext. 322, or at