Evan Treharne’s improbable, underdog run to oust Republican incumbent Marty Knollenberg from Michigan’s 41st district (Troy/Clawson) finished 7,500 votes short.
The Seaholm substitute teacher and 2003 graduate nearly pulled off the upset of the state’s election season – pulling to 50-49 percent during early voting returns – before losing the contest by 18 points.
Treharne, despite being a first time Democratic candidate, gained 42 % of the vote – a number credited his Seaholm-student laden campaign staff.
“It started out as just community service, but turned into a lot of fun,” said senior Brian O’Conner, Treharne’s Seaholm campaign manager.
Students became involved in the campaign in various ways, including government classes and hearing about it on the football team.
“Evan was one of my football coaches, and we got along within the season, so I decided to help a brother out,” said senior Mike Steltenkamp.
Students worked anywhere from 20-40 hours. “Each person worked a different amount, the most for sure was Brian O’Conner,” said Treharne. “Most people worked anywhere from 20-40 hours. I think Brian was closer to 100.”
Students dedicated themselves to going door to door, and dropping off campaign literature on peoples’ porches and newspaper bins.
“Sometimes when we were going door to door, people would get a little rowdy if they didn’t share the same views as Evan,” said senior Mike Steltenkamp.
Working on the campaign also included stapling hundreds of yard signs, which was very time consuming, but also saved money.
“The main thing is money,” said Treharne. “If you have money, you have the resources to really get your name out there.”
“I fundraised about $5000, and my opponent had close to $90,000. So if you consider that I got just under 42% of the votes with just 1/18th of his budget, it went well,” Treharne continued to say.
Besides having to deal with the issues of money and passing out campaign literature and signs, Treharne also had to endure the personal effects of the campaign.
Beginning in October, Knollenberg began a television campaign that painted a “special-interest” driven Treharne as young tax-raiser-to-be who “doesn’t own a home (and) lives with his parents.”
According to election records from the Michigan Department of State, Knollenberg spent $46,000 on those ads from August 28 to October 19. Records for the period beginning October 20 – when the ads appeared to increase in rotation – have not yet been released.
“It’s all about marketing, its all about how you’re perceived in the media,” said Treharne. “I was perceived as an inexperienced 24 year old, and my opponent Marty was perceived as the more experienced candidate.”
Overall, most students felt that the campaign was a beneficial experience.
“There’s a lot that goes into a campaign, and it’s cool to see that he put the time and effort into it,” said senior Jeremy Altman.
“Even though it was a great learning experience for me, for the 20 or 30 volunteers that I had, I think it was an even better learning experience for them,” said Treharne.
So after working the long hours and dealing with the media, will Treharne ever consider running for office again?
“If they asked me to do it tomorrow, I probably would say no. Maybe two years, four years from now, we’ll see.”