By P.G. Sittenfeld
They're in their early 20s, or if they're really getting up there in age, they're as old as 26. They work 12-hour days and sleep five hours a night (on air mattresses, no less). Some aren't even paid and find themselves wearing elephant costumes in 100-degree heat.
Who exactly are these people and what motivates them?
They're the young campaign aides working on both sides of Kentucky's Fourth District Congressional race between Republican Geoff Davis and Democrat Nick Clooney. With the retirement of Democrat Ken Lucas in a traditionally Republican-leaning district, the race is extremely competitive - and these young people are excited to be part of something big.
"This is where my family lives, where people I care about live," said Ravin Wright, 22, who helps with the scheduling for Clooney's campaign. "We have a chance to make things better for our generation and generations to come."
Mary Ann Vetter, 24, a field organizer with the Clooney campaign and a veteran of two other campaigns in Northern Kentucky, said she, like Wright, began making calls to get involved as soon as Clooney announced his candidacy.
"I knew this was going to be a dynamic campaign to be a part of," she said.
The young staffers on both sides say they are fully consumed until Election Day. While there's no such thing as a normal day, they spend much of their time organizing volunteers for events, reviewing press clippings, mobilizing voters via phone and making appearances with their candidate across the district.
"It's difficult to have a life outside of the campaign," said Kyle Robertson, 26, political director for the Davis campaign. "This isn't a 9-to-5 job, but that's not something I ever wanted."
So willing is Robertson to go beyond the call of duty that he's the one who donned the elephant costume for a parade. "It was about 100 degrees on the Fourth of July," he said. "People loved slapping high-fives with the GOP elephant, but at the end of the day I was wet, tired and just wanted a Gatorade."
But life isn't always so tough. Robertson did get to rub shoulders with Dick Cheney earlier this summer when the vice president was in town for a Davis fund-raiser.
As for those in the Clooney campaign, the George factor (as in Nick Clooney's superstar son) injects the race with a bit of glamour - or at least it seems that way from the outside.
"We don't talk about him very much around the office," said Vetter. "But of course people ask Nick where George is and he'll joke, 'Oh, he's outside in the car. Did you want me to bring him in?' "
Davis supporters have their own feelings about their opponent's celebrity son. "Hollywood is pouring a lot of money into Clooney's campaign," said Robertson. "And that outside influence makes some people uncomfortable."
Of course, day in and day out, the real stars of the campaign are the candidates - and the focus is on what they can do for Kentucky.
"This is about helping the people of the Fourth District," Vetter said.
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