In college, Colin Davis ’11 pitched for Knox’s baseball team every weekend in the spring. As a graduate, he pursues a different sort of game: political campaigning.
“It’s like a chess match played over a 6,000-square-mile chess board,” he said. “It’s a serious mental challenge.”
This election cycle, Davis is serving as field director for State Senator John Sullivan, who is running for re-election in Illinois’ 47th district. He is involved with all operations of the campaign except for finances. In practice, this means he sometimes drives 200 miles in one day to spread the word about his candidate. On other days, he spends 12 hours in front of a computer screen analyzing data and tracking trends in the polls.
He is reluctant, however, to give more specifics on what he does. When pressed for more information on what the campaign is up to, he pushes back — hard.
“The game is knowing what your opponent is doing,” he said. “Secrecy is not so much a top priority. It’s more about structure and making sure the information disseminated is factually correct.”
Davis is speaking from home; it is the first time he has worked from home in weeks. The hectic pace of campaign life is not new to him. This is his fifth campaign in as many years. In preparation for what he knew would be a chaotic fall, he took a term off from his online master’s program in political management, administered by The George Washington University.
“It’s almost an addiction,” he said of campaign life. “It’s pressured, it’s tense, but when it’s all done, you sit back and go, ‘Holy crap, that was a lot of fun.’”
Davis’ biggest adrenaline rush came in 2008 when he was canvassing for then-presidential candidate Barack Obama in Iowa. Interestingly, it was also when he broke “every rule” of canvassing, from spending 20 minutes at a single house to going inside.
“It was a split household — one person was leaning Obama, and another was a Hilary [Clinton] supporter,” he said. “Ultimately, I converted the Hilary supporter. … It just goes to show that the tiniest gesture or action can have a big impact.”
On the other end of the scale, former Congressman Phil Hare’s loss in 2010 hit Davis hard. He had worked as a regional field organizer for Hare and was in the office when the call came in that Hare was conceding. It was the first time in 27 years that a Democrat had not won the seat in Illinois’ 17th district.
Now Davis is working for another incumbent. The reason he comes back, he says, is the same reason he continues to play baseball in the summer.
“It’s the ultimate one-on-one mental, physical and psychological challenge,” he said. “I mean, I am a political junkie, but it’s also an adrenaline rush.”
In between campaign cycles, Davis refuses to slow down. In the past, he has worked for State Senator Dave Koehler in constituent services, listening to concerns from Illinois residents and relaying them to Koehler.
“People are supposed to be able to go to their elected officials when they need something. It doesn’t matter which party you identify with,” Davis said. “Seeing that assistance is given is really important to me.”
He also tries to make time to talk with young people about the importance of getting involved. Before his interview, he spoke with a high school civics class about the importance of getting involved in politics, however minimally.
“Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone if an issue is important enough to you,” he said. “Get involved if you care, because somebody else probably cares too. Nothing gets going without somebody taking the first step.”