Editor's note: Maddie Sullivan is Jennifer Sullivan's cousin. Here she reflects on her experience with the election campaign.
On Aug. 26, numerous volunteers milled about the small room, staring eagerly at the large television in the corner. It was primary day, and results from the precincts were slowly trickling in as voting polls closed.
A large group of teens, in bright green shirts with the words "Student Project" emblazoned across the front, chatted nervously in small groups. They were sunburned and exhausted from a week of strenuous campaigning. Would their candidate, my cousin Jennifer Sullivan, be elected to the House of Representatives? Would the long, tiring hours waving signs, knocking on doors and calling voters come to fruition?
Jennifer Sullivan and her family waited for the election returns in a house just up the hill from the victory party. Anticipation was high. For the past year, the campaign had been Sullivan's sole focus. Now, all she could do was wait for the people to make a decision.
The results of this primary would determine the district's next state representative, since there were only Republicans vying for the seat.
Although only 23, and without a college degree, Sullivan had decided to run for public office. She believed the Florida Legislature needed a fresh voice, someone who would defend the rights of the people and stand firm upon personal principles. Running for state representative is no small task, however. Sullivan set out to prove to the constituents that she was worthy of their vote and their trust.
Her opponents, businessmen and businesswomen and respected members of the community, claimed Sullivan lacked the skills and experience necessary to be an effective legislator. They questioned her preparedness and highlighted her age, hoping to dissuade voters from supporting her.
Every day Sullivan called voters, knocked on doors and attended community events. She raised thousands of dollars needed to pay for advertising materials and campaign costs through donations. She attended public forums and debates, answering questions about her campaign and principles. She organized large groups of volunteers to knock on doors and wave signs, sending out groups from her home, which functioned as campaign headquarters.
Sullivan also drew from an often untapped volunteer base to support her campaign: young people. Teenagers, many of them from out of state, flew to Florida from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Arkansas and Georgia. They gave up weeks of their summer to spend long hours in the humid Florida weather campaigning for Sullivan because they believed they could help make a difference, even though many of them were too young to vote.
At the house on election night, the phone rang. The election returns were in. Sullivan was victorious.
As she entered the victory party, greeted by the cheers of her supporters, tears of joy streamed down her face.
Jennifer Sullivan is the youngest woman to be elected to the Florida House of Representatives, making history. My cousin's success was a reflection of dedication, hard work and perseverance.