Jeanine Calkin’s upset win over Senate President Pro Tem Bill Walaska was a centerpiece of the progressive movement’s wave of victories in this year’s primaries. For a behind the scenes look at the Calkin campaign, RI Future sat down with Campaign Manager Capri Catanzaro.
How does it feel to unseat Walaska?
If I were to sum up everything, it would be that I am proud of the work that Jeanine did—especially the fact that she was willing to put herself out there and dedicate her time and energy to a new lifestyle. She was very persistent with the work that I gave her, and I am very proud of the result.
What was your strategy?
The most important aspect of Jeanine’s campaign was being approachable and personable. We wanted to create a community of discussion around issues that were important to the constituents. Canvassing enabled us to develop relationships, and earn support.
What inspired you to get involved in politics?
I read Bernie’s platform, and I pretty much immediately decided that if I did not put all of my effort into electing this man, then I would be extremely disappointed in myself. I had never had any interest in politics before, but Bernie changed everything for me.
That’s interesting. Most people discover Bernie through watching him online, but you discovered him by reading his platform. That’s very issues focused.
I am 100% issues oriented. My main focus is always on enacting progressive policy to make peoples’ lives better.
So what did you do for Bernie?
How long do we have? I started by attending local events, was invited to help get out the vote in New Hampshire. I then decided to spend all my money on plane tickets to fly around the country to volunteer for Bernie. Everywhere I went, I wanted to make sure that I was bringing something new and helpful to that state. I did not want show up one day, eat the snacks, and talk to the organizers for fifteen minutes about why Bernie’s great. I wanted to make the biggest possible impact for Bernie that I could.
So what’s an example of something new that you brought to a state?
In New York, no one was touching two congressional districts in upstate New York, and I created a campaign hub for the area, and I opened three additional staging locations.
How did Bernie do in your area?
Oh, he won overwhelmingly, even though it was a very Republican area. It was so Republican that I met a woman who said she had to register as a Republican in order to even be considered for a job!
How many states total did you travel to to volunteer in?
Seven. Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Nevada, Texas, Missouri, New York, and California.
Wow, that’s a lot!
Yeah, I wish I could have done more.
What inspired you to run Jeanine’s campaign?
We had been working together to elect Bernie Sanders for months. She called me one day. I was actually in California. She told me she was running for office, and she really wanted me to be her campaign manager. I was overwhelmed with the fact that someone would actually want me to manager their campaign. I was scared. I was definitely scared.
What made you decide to do it?
I was planning on working on Zephyr Teachout’s congressional campaign, but I knew that I could make a bigger impact by working for Jeanine.
So what were the biggest challenges you faced on the campaign?
The most difficult thing for this campaign was convincing everyone else that she had a shot.
A lot of people assumed that Walaska was going to win. How did you manage to pull off your upset victory?
Having a really dedicated team was the key. We had some amazing volunteers, especially our intern Enzo Cuseo. Jeanine’s husband, Dan, also put in long hours for the campaign after his normal work day. We utilized every moment of Jeanine’s time and our own time to knock on doors, hold events, and make phone calls. Long days and late nights were just part of the job.
What’s the most important result of this race?
To be honest, I think it is showing that your strategy and efficiency can go a long way. People just assume that the person with the most money is going to win, but if you run a strategic and efficient campaign, you can pull it off despite the monetary challenges. Also, I think that Jeanine will be an inspiration to future progressive candidates.
So where are you going next?
I want to continue electing progressive candidates. The Revolution waits for nobody.