Two weeks ago, Democrats swept elections in Virginia and New Jersey, marking a major victory for the party. Members of the Yale College Democrats played a role in some of these victories, working for the campaigns of Democratic candidates through the Yale Dems’ new Fellows Program.
The Fellows Program, which the Dems launched in September, connects members with local and state political campaigns for remote work opportunities. Soon after it was announced, the program matched 45 fellows with 12 contested campaigns in four states. In seven of those races, the Democratic candidate emerged victorious on Nov. 7.
“We saw this huge national moment — Democrats getting energized, Republicans retiring in Congress because they’re a little bit anxious about these races,” said Josh Hochman ’18, president of the Yale College Democrats. “Yale students on this campus played a role in that.”
To get the program off the ground, Hochman said the Dems tweeted to different legislative campaigns offering to outsource tasks to remote interns at Yale. Most campaign teams replied to the offer — and all the respondents chose to join the program. Depending on the needs each campaign team expressed, fellows worked for 3 to 4 hours each week in one of four areas — research, press, finance and organizing.
The program’s focus on contested districts increased its potential for impact, Hochman said. Over a dozen members of the Dems interned for candidates who won their elections. As a result of these wins, Hochman said, Virginia’s legislature is much more likely to enact Democratic policies, such as expanding Medicaid.
Hochman praised the program not only for helping propel some Democratic candidates to victory but also for exposing members of the Dems to local politics, giving them valuable work experience.
“This was a way for 45 of our members, most of whom are first years, to immediately hit the ground running on races that were really important,” Hochman said. “They made a real difference, and I’m really proud of them.”
Stephanie Horsfall ’21 volunteered as a research fellow for Mariel DiDato’s campaign for a seat on the New Jersey General Assembly. In that capacity, she compiled information about DiDato’s opponent’s voting record and bill sponsorship.
This was Horsfall’s first campaign position, and she said that while her fellowship work was tedious at times, she appreciated seeing the direct results of her efforts push the campaign forward.
“Without this program, I would have never thought of interning for a campaign, much less asking for an opportunity in speechwriting,” she said. “The program really opened the door to help people become more politically aware on a state and national level.”
Horsfall said she also had the opportunity to write a speech for one of DiDato’s meet-and-greet events and that the experience helped her build speechwriting skills that she likely would not have developed in an academic context.
While DiDato did not ultimately win a seat on the New Jersey General Assembly, she came closer to flipping the seat than any other Democrat in 20 years. Horsfall said she still sees this result as a victory on both a political and personal level, and said she felt she had a tangible impact a campaign.
Another fellow, Lilly Gold ’21, said she had little interest in local politics before the program, but that her fellowship helped her recognize the importance of local politics.
Gold said she compiled potential donors’ contact information for Elizabeth Guzman’s House of Delegates campaign in Virginia. Still, the primary benefits of the program did not lie in her official duties but in the conversations it allowed her to have with campaign staff.
“I learned a great deal about what it was like to work on a campaign and the culture of working in local politics, which was incredibly helpful for someone who is interested in possibly following this career path,” Gold said.
Neil Goodman ’20 worked for the social media department of Willie Randall’s Virginia House of Delegates campaign, and said his fellowship mostly consisted of writing posts for the campaign’s Facebook page. Goodman also wrote a fundraising email for Randall’s birthday that brought in $1,200 for the campaign.
The College Democrats of America was founded in 1932.
Natalie Wright | firstname.lastname@example.org