After the votes are in…

UIS Student gains campaign experience


Photographs courtesy of Tiffany Chin

Cole Moriarty, Features Reporter

If politics is at all akin to a sport, it is because a democracy demands that at the end of the day the votes get counted and the score tells you who won and who lost.

It possesses a kind of clarity and definition of answers that is rarely found in life. But with that clarity is the inevitability that someone is going to win and someone is going to lose, and when the votes are counted, that’s it.

Across the country, candidates from both parties are beginning to finish the opening round, the primaries, which determines who survives and advances to the title game, the general election.

Not everyone survives and advances. Some candidates sought to win the nomination and lost, ending their campaign and closing the door behind the employees and volunteers who fought in the trenches.

Jesse Johnson, a political science sophomore, was one of those who fought one of the unsuccessful battles that ended with Illinois’s primary a few weeks ago. He worked as the volunteer coordinator and office manager for Bryce Benton’s campaign for the Republican nomination for the 50th district of the Illinois State Senate.

A self described economic republican (“social issues are a whole other thing”) from a small town, Johnson says he sees “so much waste in government.”

He supports Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the Republican presidential race and says he’d vote for Donald Trump should he be the nominee.

Asked about future political ambitions, he says he’d be interested in running for the United States Senate (as an ideal) but that he wants “a career first.”

Johnson said he enjoyed the experience, particularly “all the different people I got to meet from all different walks of life” who came out to work on the campaign. Such people included stay-at-home moms, or those working seven days a week who still found time to come and join in the attempt.

Johnson said volunteers for the campaign “came from both sides of the aisle.”

Beyond that, it was a real-world classroom; Johnson “learned so much about the campaign life,” but, more than that, he “learned how to be a leader.” Of the candidate, he said, “Bryce is a really good dude.”

There were only 60 days left before the primary when he joined the campaign, coming to work on it through a connection made in the UIS College Republicans.

Johnson was one of many College Republicans from across the state who came to work on the Benton campaign, as students from UIUC and Western Illinois University also joined the effort.

Johnson considered it one of the highlights as well, as it was “cool to see youth” on the campaign.

Johnson stuck with the campaign because he liked Benton, whom he more than once during the course of the interview described as “genuine.”

(In fact, The State Journal-Register (SJ-R) reported that “McCann said Benton seemed ‘very humble and genuine and sincere’ in his concession call.”)

Benton, a state trooper, announced his campaign not long before of the filing deadline.

According to a Nov. 17, 2015 SJ-R article by Bernard Schoenburg, Benton previously sought appointment to represent the 99th district of the Illinois House of Representatives after Rep. Raymond Poe was named to be the director of agriculture by Gov. Bruce Rauner but lost out.

The campaign can best be described as insurgent and uphill, considering that Bryce Benton sought to unseat incumbent Sen. Sam McCann.

However, Benton did secure the backing of Gov. Rauner, who, according to the a Feb. 12 article published by Schoenburg with the SJ-R, sought to punish McCann for failing to vote the party line with regard to unions.

Johnson says that the campaign knew entering Election Day that their chances at victory hinged on whether Democrats pulled Republican ballots in the primary to support McCann, though they were hopeful this wouldn’t be the case.

The day of the election, Johnson says he “started at nine and went to 6:30” with “30 or 40 people making calls” over the course of the day.

That night, Johnson was dispatched to the county courthouse in Carlinville, Illinois to receive the county’s results. His phone rang and the news that the contest had been lost was relayed.

“The drive home was sad,” he says, but “we did all we could.”

The elections was decided by a vote of 21,503-19,341, with McCann as the victor.

Johnson says that he has kept in touch with many of his coworkers and his boss from the campaign, and that, at the time of the interview, he had plans “to meet again soon.”

When asked about the highlights of his experience, Johnson’s first recollection was the speeding ticket he received on Election Day.

“Hopefully,” he says, “next time I get a win.”