Shortly after graduating Columbia College, Philip Chambers ‘15CC, secured solid employment at a PR agency near Aspen, Colorado. On the surface, representing some of the biggest outdoor brands in North America might seem like anyone’s dream job, but for Chambers, the new role left him feeling somewhat unfulfilled. Hearing a higher calling, he soon returned his home state of South Carolina where he ended up managing the campaign of 27-year-old Chris Fedalei, who was running against a longstanding incumbent Trey Gowdy.
At Columbia, Chambers had worked with a team of fellow students to push for resiliency funding aimed at improving NYC’s utility infrastructure post-Hurricane Sandy. “We were a small team that made a big impact — even as a lowly undergrads. The experience helped me realize the difference you can make if you’re dedicated.” he recounted. Chambers took this lesson to heart, channeling this enthusiasm into South Carolina primary races where he helped shore up support in national and state-level primary campaigns.
Chambers noticed a significant gap in the party’s activity: his hometown of Spartanburg where he worked with Democratic candidate and attorney Chris Fedalei to carve a path to victory in a district that hadn’t had a Democratic representative in nearly 25 years.
“Our incumbent, Trey Gowdy, is well-known and nationally prominent” says Chambers. “No one has really challenged him.” But by the end of the first quarter, Chambers and his candidate Fedalei had out raised all other Democratic challengers combined. “It may be accurate to say that until we came along, no one in our community has been able to stand up and say ‘there are other views here besides those of the GOP.’”
So how did Chambers and Fedalei launch a campaign with so little of the party’s resources and infrastructure available to candidates in more competitive districts? They did it with a core of dedicated young volunteers, a passion for progressive politics, and of course, a healthy dose of technology.
“A lot of what we do is mine potential donors through databases, to target the people who are most likely going to donate money, volunteer for us, or simply vote for us,” said Chambers. The campaign also utilizes a variety of innovative new technologies, including Columbia-founded startup Polis, a canvassing app that streamlines door-to-door political outreach founded by Columbia College alumnae Kendall Tucker ʼ14CC. (See related story on Polis).
“With big data, as long as I have enough people who believe in what we’re doing, it doesn’t matter how much money the other guy has. If we reach out to the right people and secure their votes, the other guy doesn’t stand a chance.”
Chambers isn’t sure what he’ll be doing after November — it all depends on the election results, of course — but he’s confident that regardless, he’ll be working to build a progressive voting base in South Carolina. “There is a direct correlation between energy of the young South Carolina electorate and values that we’re fighting for. We’re making sure that energy is represented at the state and national level where we need more candidates like Chris Fedalei.”
[One last thing, here is a link to the Fedalei website (votefedalei.com). There you should find a small bit of info about the race. It’s South Carolina’s 4th Congressional district, covering Greenville and Spartanburg counties.]