DES MOINES, Iowa, 10:42 AM — The Obama campaign is counting down the hours to the caucus. Thirty-two, to be exact, according to a sign that hangs a few feet in front of the desk of Yohannes Abraham ’07, one of Obama’s Polk County Field Organizers. The energy in the room is palpable, and Abraham’s frequent glances back to his desk during our interview belie a fervent desire to get back to work.
“I don’t think anyone can fully appreciate how intense the Iowa caucuses are until you’re on the ground here,” the Trumbull College alum says, “Especially here in Des Moines, which is the political heart of the state, you have A-list politicians, journalists, political operatives just milling about. It’s a relatively small city and it has such a huge volume of activity by these really big players. There’s a little bit of a fishbowl aspect to it.”
Part of Abraham’s job as a field organizer is expanding that fishbowl. While some policy advisors and other Obama staffers work within the exclusive confines of the campaign, Abraham engages with his Iowan volunteers, integrating himself into Polk County communities and building relationships he hopes pay off Thursday night. He spent Christmas in Des Moines, paying a visit to two of his precinct captains. It’s all part of keeping a pulse on likely caucus-goers, to make sure each precinct is ready to go on caucus night.
Such grassroots work is nothing new for Abraham, who has worked for political organizations in Washington, D.C. just north of hometown Springfield, VA in the past. But the location is new. Abraham says Des Moines is certainly different – more spread out, more digestible than DC – although in some ways it reminds him of New Haven. “It feels like a college town,” he says.
And the campaign has that college feeling too, in some ways. The deadlines, pressure, and cramped spaces call to mind a dorm during finals week. Abraham agrees.
“Socially, [the campaign] is a lot like college,” he says. “It reminds me a lot of freshman year – It’s this totally new situation, this new environment where you don’t know a lot of people. But when you start working fifteen hour days side by side in a city you don’t know, everyone starts to feel like family.”
On the other hand, it’s exactly those fifteen-hour days that represent a “stark transition” from the end of senior year at Yale. The intensity of the campaign rivals anything Abraham pursued at Yale, and the political science major says little of his coursework has had direct relevance to life on the ground in Des Moines. Abraham credits Political Science professor Sean Smith’s “Modern Political Campaigns” class with giving “the only really valuable insight into what campaigns are all about.”
Embedded in one of the hottest primary contests in modern history, it’s safe to say Abraham has received a crash course in the subject beyond anything Yale could have offered. But he’s still waiting for the final lecture – 32 hours from now.