The night Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan to be his running mate is etched into the memory of Tripp Wellde, a 2006 graduate of Richmond. Just off work after a round of campaign-strategy meetings in Chicago, he was just about to take his first sip of beer when his phone started buzzing.
"I groaned when I saw the message," he said. "Romney was planning to announce the pick on the USS Wisconsin, which meant one thing: Paul Ryan."
Tripp Wellde was President Barack Obama's first line of defense against vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. He was the state campaign director for Wisconsin during the president's reelection effort, until November 6th. Election Day in Wisconsin would come down to a battle between Ryan's popularity and recognition and Wellde's messaging and ground game.
In the 24-hour news cycle, virtually everyone knows who won that battle, one of thousands that played out across the country on Election Day. Obama won the state by almost seven points. Along the way though, even Wellde wasn't certain.
"I was only worried we weren't going to win two times," Wellde said. "The Ryan pick was one that fundamentally changed the race. The second was the first debate."
Wellde is just 28, but speaks as though he has been running campaigns for ages. In a way, he has. The journey of the native New Yorker to the heart of the Midwest passed through University of Richmond from 2002-2006. After graduating, Wellde joined up with now-Senator Mark Warner's exploratory run for President. All the while, he kept an eye on a young senator from Illinois.
After Warner decided not to run, and Obama started to gain steam, Tripp made a bold decision. He picked up the phone and started calling everyone he could think of that could help him snag a job with the future president, who was running in the Iowa caucuses against favorite Hillary Clinton. It was Mitch Stuart, the man who led Organizing for America, who finally returned his call, and the Wellde packed up his bags and his life and set them down among the cornfields of Iowa.
He started work as a field organizer, going door to door to bring out supporters for Obama. He didn't last long in that role. Before he knew it, he was being promoted. By the general election, Wellde was in charge of every field organizer in the state of Iowa.
"I never expected to uproot my world to Iowa, but after the election I realized the people I'd worked with had become my best friends," said Wellde, who stayed in the Midwest working in Wisconsin until last month.
Now, with his mission accomplished, he's taking a breath of fresh air and figuring out what to do next. In the meantime, he hopes to use his connections and abilities to help fellow Spiders get into campaign work.
Wellde loves the lifestyle and encourages others to get involved. He realizes, though, that life on the campaign trail comes with a warning label.
"The hardest thing to do is achieve a balanced life," he said. "12-14 hour days are normal, but campaigns are a personal choice, and you are surrounded by people who live by ideals and want to make a difference in the world."
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As he climbed into his car to brave the traffic back to Washington D.C., his passion for trying to help out shone through.
"When you're at UR, you don't have enough appreciation for the world class teachers, people and friendships here," he said. "You'll never have time again like you do in college. Don't waste it."
Contact reporter John McAuliff at firstname.lastname@example.org
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