In Appreciation of Campaign Volunteers

“This will not be a tea party. It will be a tough, hard fight and none of us can afford to let down for a minute.”

–1962 election speakers’ kit, Senator Daniel K. Inouye Papers

We’re used to seeing candidates on debates, on the news, in commercials, on social media. What’s a lot less visible is the labor of the thousands of volunteers working tirelessly behind the scenes stuffing envelopes, arranging speaking engagements and coffee hours, phone banking, canvassing, coordinating fundraisers, and registering voters. From silk screening T-shirts to repairing torn banners, every contribution matters. “No matter how you spend your day, you can do something to help Sparky!” reported the August 26, 1964, edition of Sparky Re-election Campaign News (Senator Spark M. Matsunaga Papers).



The campaign files in the Hawai‘i Congressional Papers Collection reveal much about strategy, party politics, the way that race and class operate in Hawai‘i, among other subjects. They also convey a sense of the day-to-day grind of campaigns, and the critical role that volunteers play in that work. “I want to thank you for your generous donation of kamaboko for the open house at my campaign headquarters during my recent campaign,” reads one thank-you letter written during Senator Inouye’s 1968 campaign. Other letters thank supporters for  “the loan of your plants,” “the use of the thermo cooler,” “your donation of the typewriters,” “your donation of chicken,” “your donation of aku,” and “the use of your truck” (Senator Daniel K. Inouye Papers).

“We are in dire need of office help at the headquarters,” the October 21, 1964, issue of Sparky Re-election Campaign News pleaded. “Many mailings of thank-you letters for donations, banner displays and coffee hours left-over from before the primary must be sent out at once. Call Headquarters and arrange for a time. Even if you can’t spend some time for Sparky at the office, arrangements can be made for supplying you with some homework” (Senator Spark M. Matsunaga Papers).

In his 1959 campaign for U.S. Senate, Hiram Fong personally shook the hand of nearly 50,000 people. This was part of his “Fong Plan” to reach out to independents and democrats in non-republican districts through recruitment, outreach, letter writing, strategic appearances, and advertising. “The campaign staff worked an average day of 12 to 16 hours, seven days a week. The candidate worked equal, if not greater hours. With variations, key volunteers equaled this schedule…. Our fundamental belief was that only hard work on the part of all could lead to victory and our reputation for hard work and dedication not only inspired workers but impressed and influenced voters” (Hiram L. Fong Papers).


During Matsunaga’s 1976 campaign for U.S. Senate, he hosted a series of “Breakfast with Sparky” events that attracted 5,000 people. Volunteers woke up at 3 am to prepare pancakes, scrambled eggs, hot chocolate, and coffee (Senator Spark M. Matsunaga Papers).

Candidates certainly recognized the value of volunteers. In a thank you letter to a volunteer, Senator Inouye wrote, “With this kind of back-up, I cannot fail to serve you and all of the other people in Hawaii to the very best of my ability in the U.S. Senate” (Senator Daniel K. Inouye Papers).

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