Internet Explorer 11 is not supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

A Day in the Life of a Local Campaign

As election day approaches, a Maryland candidate for office uses every minute to secure every vote.

Jessica Fitzwater gesturing with both hands while speaking.
(Photographs by David Kidd/ Governing)
Jessica Fitzwater, a public school music teacher in Frederick County, Md., is about to finish her second four-year term as a county council member. Finishing with 58 percent of the vote in a three-way Democratic primary, she is now running to replace the current term-limited county executive.

The 38-year-old widowed mother of two small children has taken a leave of absence from her teaching job to focus on the race. But her background in education informs her policies and politics. “Not only is public education a core function of government,” she says, “but it also brings more high paying jobs, more business investment and more families that want to move to your community. It has a ripple effect on almost everything else that you’re trying to accomplish as a community.”

The new county executive will be sworn in less than a month from now, leaving little time for a transition. “If I am lucky enough to win, once I’m officially county executive there is no stopping,” Jessica says. “The budget process for this fiscal year really has already started … . In January, we have to go to New York to defend our AAA bond rating … . The [state] General Assembly session starts in Annapolis. It’s going to be hitting the ground running for sure.”

With only a few days to go before the election, Governing spent a day on the campaign trail with the candidate as she worked for votes.
Jessica Fitzwater helps one of her children get into the car.
At 7:40 in the morning, Jessica’s first task is to get the kids to their schools before heading out to greet voters on the last day of early voting.

Jessica Fitzwater standing in a parking lot holding flyers while talking with two voters.
On her first stop of the day, the candidate chooses a polling place where access to voters is easier than at other locations. “I’m Jessica,” she says to everyone who walks past. “I’m the Democratic nominee for county executive. I don’t know if you’ve made your mind up, but I’d love to earn your vote.”

Jessica Fitzwater standing in a street holding flyers while talking with a reporter.
Jessica agrees to meet a local reporter who is writing a story outlining the candidates’ views on the issues. Before the interview begins, she learns that her opponent has received his questions in advance. “I’m not OK with not being on a level playing field,” she says. “If he is answering via email, then I would like to do that as well.” The reporter agrees to accept her written response by 8 p.m. that night.

Jessica Fitzwater standing on a chair while putting a campaign poster on a wall.
Before noon, Jessica stops in at headquarters to meet with Campaign Manager Malcolm Bates, her only full-time staff member. Part-time consultants help with fundraising, direct mail and media. The campaign office rents space above a Starbucks in the city of Frederick.

Malcolm Bates sitting at a desk while Jessica Fitzwater stands beside him talking.
Malcolm and Jessica discuss the best way to use a flurry of late donations. “I’m going to spend every nickel between now and Tuesday morning that we have,” says Jessica. “We’re utilizing it for the best kind of targeted and direct voter outreach as we can.”

Jessica Fitzwater standing outside in front of a hedge speaking while a woman stands in front of her holding up a camera to record.
At 1 p.m. Jessica, Malcolm and a team of volunteers meet up in a local Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot. Before they split up to canvass the neighborhood, Jessica records a quick video message, thanking “everybody who has knocked on doors, made phone calls and texted folks, making sure that people know … how important it is to vote.”

Jessica Fitzwater walking down the path away from a house while carrying flyers and a shoulder bag.
Armed with data telling them where the likely voters live, Jessica and her team move through the neighborhood block by block.

One of Jessica Fitzwater’s campaign fliers tucked inside a closed front door.
When no one answers, the candidate carefully writes a quick message on a campaign flyer before leaving it at the door. “Sorry I missed you, Jessica.”

Jessica Fitzwater handing a flyer to a person as they walk through a doorway.
“I love getting out and knocking on doors,” says Jessica. “And sometimes you just never know if you’re the person that’s going to convince somebody to vote.”

Jessica Fitzwater standing in a line with other public officials posing for a photo.
At 4 p.m. Jessica makes an appearance at a shovel ceremony for a local tech incubator, listening to speeches and posing for pictures with other public officials.

Jessica Fitzwater standing indoors holding her smartphone while talking with two people.
The last event of the day is a “young professionals happy hour” at a trendy bar. “For goodness sake, we must elect sane people who actually care about our kids and education,” she tells the crowd. “There are still ways that you can help. We are going to be out knocking on doors all weekend, talking to folks who haven’t voted yet. Making sure that they have a plan to vote on Tuesday.”

Jessica Fitzwater typing on a laptop on her lap while Malcolm Bates sits next to her looking over her shoulder.
After most of the party guests have left, Jessica and Malcolm check over her answers to the reporter’s questions from their early-morning encounter.

Jessica Fitzwater holding campaign signs under her arm while walking down a sidewalk at night.
The candidate finally heads home after a long day.

David Kidd is a photojournalist and storyteller for Governing. He can be reached at
From Our Partners