Weekend session in Orono teaches the ART of politics

Posted Feb. 08, 2009, at 11:08 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — When Ethan Strimling and Corey Hascall started A Rising Tide in 2004, they tried to offer a session of the campaign leadership seminar in the Bangor area.

But too few people signed up, and the session was canceled.

When 30 people showed up for a training session last September in Portland, however, Strimling and Hascall knew it was time to look north again.

Former state Sen. Strimling and Hascall, his campaign manager, held their first Bangor area session of A Rising Tide, which is aimed at young Mainers and those relatively new to politics.

The free, nonpartisan and nonprofit three-day institute was held over the weekend on the University of Maine campus. It was ART’s 14th institute in four years and follows an election year in which four of its graduates were elected to the state Legislature last November.

Although Strimling ran for office as a Democrat, ART’s participants, speakers and leaders include Republicans, Democrats, independents, Green Independent Party members, and others. Strimling said he has seen ART graduates working against him in his campaigns.

That’s just fine with him.

“We wanted to do something that was bipartisan,” Strimling said. “It’s just important that we get young people out there.”

The seminar participants, who came from all over Maine, seemed to have different reasons for joining Strimling and Hascall. Some were failed candidates last year and wanted to learn how to run smarter campaigns. Others were interested in getting issue-driven messages to the public.

Krista Ricupero, a 10-year Orono resident and UM graduate student, would like to shape public policy in the sciences.

“This training is about grass-roots ways to get your message out in a political way,” said Ricupero, who is finishing her master’s degree in the department of civil and environmental engineering. “What is more fundamental to any city than being able to manage your resources wisely? You start to figure out who might need to know the message, the information, how you can deliver it effectively, and if there’s a vote concerning it, how the city can make an informed choice.”

During Sunday’s session, participants first compiled a sample campaign budget and had to explain why they put more money into, say, direct mail rather than radio advertising.

The challenge, Strimling told the group, is figuring out what works best for each distinct district.

“You can figure out who you need to talk to, what you say to them, how you say it, and then turn them out to vote,” Strimling said. “Or you can do a very bad job because you haven’t targeted, haven’t figured out how to get your resources to the people who need it most.”

The group then heard a presentation from Darlene Huntress of the gay rights group Equality Maine, who spoke about organizing and inspiring volunteers in any type of campaign.

“We wouldn’t be able to do anything without our huge base of volunteers,” she said.

After Huntress’ talk, the ART attendees split into groups to organize a mock campaign with month-by-month directives. For each directive, the groups were awarded with “voters,” with 100,000 voters needed to win the campaign.

Lee native and UM sophomore Charlie Longo, who took last semester off to work in the Obama campaign, said he might want to run for political office or work for a campaign someday. ART, he was told, was a way to jump into politics.

“People are saying, ‘You have to take this. It’s a good stepping stone,’” Longo said. “I worked four months in the [Obama] campaign, and the stuff I’m learning here is brand new. It’s great.”

For information, visit www.arisingtidemaine.com.

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