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Thursday, November 30, 2023

On Saturdays, they walk.

Not for their health, or their friends, but for their candidates.

They’re the students of POS4940, Political Internship.

And for three credits and 150 hours a semester, they stroll the campaign trail, passing fliers, hanging fliers and holding signs on busy street corners.

In the past five years, Daniel Smith, director of UF’s political campaigning program, said he’s had about 100 of his students marching through Gainesville mayoral and commission campaigns.

Smith said depending on the size of the race, students can take whatever size role they want in the campaign.

With bigger campaigns, he said, they usually play a smaller role. But with local and city campaigns, he’s seen students manning the wheel.

Ryan Garcia, a sophomore economics major at UF, is one of about 27 students working on the District 3 City Commission election.

Garcia is an intern with City Commission hopeful and local bar and restaurant owner Rob Zeller.

Other students are working with candidates Susan Bottcher, Lauren Poe and Thomas Hawkins.

The Zeller campaign has the most interns.

Although the race is nonpartisan, Zeller received the unofficial endorsement of UF College Republicans.

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On weekend mornings, Garcia laces up his running shoes and takes to neighborhood streets for five hours with about 15 of his classmates for the Zeller campaign.

Zeller said the students help him reach a bigger audience than he and his staff could.

“One person could never run a campaign themselves,” Zeller said.

Bryan Griffin, Zeller’s campaign manager, said the student interns get something out of the deal, too.

“They’re getting the real-world experience in this sort of clockwork mechanism that is the campaign,” he said.

So far, he has them planning campaign events, mapping their walks and drawing up phone call databases.

Next week, Zeller plans to have his interns call early voters.

Garcia is on his fourth campaign internship, including working on Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign.

He will be canvassing this Saturday, too.

“The neighborhoods don’t seem that big,” he said. “But after a while, they start seeming pretty long.”

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