Meincke wraps up whirlwind political journeyLife took an unexpected twist for 2008 Hudson High School graduate James Meincke when he earned a fellowship position with the Barack Obama campaign
By: Margaret Ontl, Hudson Star-Observer
Life took an unexpected twist for 2008 Hudson High School graduate James Meincke when he earned a fellowship position with the Barack Obama campaign.
“Over 10,000 applied for the summer program,” said Meincke. “Only 3,000 were accepted and I was one of them.”
That was just the beginning.
In June, Meincke headed to Madison for training, along with all of the Obama fellowship leaders statewide. After that he spent the next six weeks working in Eau Claire.
“There were three sections of the campaign,” said Meincke. “Voter recruitment, voter contact and get out the vote.” All of the leaders were deputized by the state so they could register voters.
While in Eau Claire, Meincke worked the phones from 5 to 9 p.m. every night. He recruited volunteers and worked to register voters in shopping malls, in front of supermarkets and by knocking on doors in student wards.
“We tried to find places where there were lots of people,” said Meincke, who also organized hosts for house parties. The work was generally from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, and Meincke averaged 60 hours a week.
At the end of July, the Obama fellows returned to Madison for a wrap-up party. It was driving back from there that Meincke learned from his boss that there a few field adviser positions open in the state.
“I decided to take the job and defer college,” said Meincke, who arrived home at 11 p.m. to share the news with his parents, Carl and Judy. He had to make a decision by morning. Mom and Dad were split on their opinions of what their son should do.
If Meincke thought his life was in overdrive the first six weeks, now it went into hyper drive. He headed back to Madison Aug. 1 for additional training.
“Being a part of the first stage, I wanted to see the whole process,” he said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing so I did not want to pass it up. Never once have I regretted that decision.”
Meincke was assigned to Marinette and Oconto counties in northeastern Wisconsin, working the first three weeks in Green Bay until he established an office in Marinette.
“After training we had to hit the ground running. Starting at 9 a.m. working on data entry, office work, volunteer recruitment and lots and lots of phone calls daily from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Voter contact was really important.
“I was told there was never any political office in Marinette. It was something they had not seen before.”
By the end of August they moved into a modest yet visible storefront, sharing space with a camera store on a main street in Marinette.
“It was an amazing experience. I was a little scared at first; it was like starting at ground zero,” said Meincke, who had been warned the area leaned toward the right.
“Three words we used as guidelines: respect, empower and include. No one was turned away. We had ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
“I really saw that they were average people that were passionate about the cause. They took so much time out of their lives. One of the focuses of the campaign is building relationships with your volunteers. We all had a common bond. It was sad to see it end.”
As momentum built, so did Meincke’s work hours. By early October through Election Day, he put in over 100 hours a week.
Beginning Nov. 1, the Saturday before Election Day, the get-out-the-vote effort was in full swing.
“That is when we needed the most people,” said Meincke. “Having all the supporters was one thing, but getting them to vote is another. It was pretty stressful and we had some really late nights that week getting everything ready for the canvassers.”
The goal was to make more than 1,600 door knocks per day beginning Nov. 1. That doubled by Monday.
Meincke worked the phones up until 7:30 p.m. Election Day and then went to the polls to make sure if voters were in line when the polls closed they did not leave, although he admitted that was not a problem.
“I was a supporter from the start,” said Meincke. “Obama was something new and he had a new approach — it was all for the people. He became a politician to help people. It was cool to see how his campaign affected so many people. Some people up there had not voted in a presidential election in over 20 years.
“My goal before I earned the fellowship was to attend UW-Madison, major in political science, possibly go to law school and maybe run for Congress some day. I also wanted to be part of this moment, which was so cool. It was my first time voting and it was very exciting.
“It was a lot of work and it was a lot of fun,” said Meincke, who will be relaxing at home in Hudson and starting college in January as a freshman at UW-Madison, with a world-class experience already behind him.
In terms of Wisconsin, Obama had an amazing field program, according to Meincke. The campaign had 50 field offices, twice what John Kerry had in 2004, largely because Wisconsin was identified as a battleground state.