Campus / Community / Election 2012 / Featured / National / News / September 26, 2012

Knox graduate works for Illinois GOP grassroots organization

Karl Bair ‘12, center, poses for a photo with Speaker of the House John Boehner and Congressman Bobby Schilling (R-Colona). “He [Schilling] is still a human being,” Bair said. “That’s the first test.” (Courtesy of Karl Bair)

It was 7 a.m. on a Tuesday, and Karl Bair ’12 was already in a rush. The office of Congressman Bobby Schilling (R-Colona) had just received a tip that a group of protesters was headed to Moline to advocate for raising the minimum wage, and Bair, as field director, was working as quickly as possible to drum up a counter-protest before 2 p.m.

“It was go time,” Bair said. “Call anybody you know — all of our supporters — [and] make sure we have a good showing.”

Later that day, the Quad Cities Dispatch reported about the Schilling counter-protest and not the Democratic protesters from Chicago, who had begun the whole hullabaloo. For Bair, it was exactly the sort of adrenaline rush that had led him to become involved with the Schilling campaign in the first place.

Bair, 23, majored in political science at Knox, but had never worked on a campaign before this cycle. Both his competitive nature and his respect for Schilling led him to seek out ways to be involved. Having now met Schilling several times, he does not regret the decision.

“Even after being in Washington, he’s a very approachable guy, and he’s down to earth,” Bair said. “To me, that’s a pretty clear indicator if this is someone I can see myself voting for.”

Bair’s first days at the campaign were spent as a jack of all trades. After completing whatever tasks were thrown at him, he was promoted to field director, where he planned outreach and voter contact initiatives. In July, he moved to Illinois Victory, a grassroots organization of the Republican Party in Illinois.

Bair describes himself as a “person-to-person, well, person.” He was initially reluctant to be interviewed over the phone. While much of his time is spent with a receiver at his ear, recruiting volunteers to come staff phone banks, his favorite part of his job is speaking directly with undecided voters, which presents both a challenge and a chance to debate issues and change minds.

Although he has only been in the campaign business for a few months, he has already become adept at judging people’s preferences within seconds of meeting them. A family of six with a cross on their front door is likely pro-life, he says, and he focuses his pitch on that issue. Conversely, he might begin a conversation with an older woman from a dangerous part of town by discussing issues of personal safety.

Some aspects of grassroots work are difficult without being accompanied by an adrenaline rush, however. After four months of day-in and day-out campaigning, Bair has lost 20 pounds and gets by on four to five hours of sleep a night.

“I drink a lot of coffee, eat a lot of pizza and I make it through,” he said.

Every morning, Bair arrives at the office before the sun has risen and leaves well after it has set. Even while lying in bed at night, his mind chatters away as he toys with ideas for volunteer recruitment or remembers people he still needs to call.

For his work, Bair gets paid just enough to get by, as is typical for campaign staffers. Coupled with student loan payments, the physical and mental toll means that he cannot continue in this line of work forever. Still, Bair sees himself staying involved in the campaign culture for at least the next several years before returning to his home state of Indiana to run for office himself.

“I love the rush,” he said. “The hours blow and the pay sucks, but that aside, I’m a huge part of this effort, and I’m making a difference.”

Anna Meier

Tags:  bobby schilling Campaign election Election 2012 Illinois Illinois Victory Karl Bair Republican Voter

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