When Opportunity Knocks: A Fellow’s Journey from the Front Door to the Statehouse

About Us: Progressive Turnout Project is the largest voter contact organization in the country, specifically dedicated to mobilizing the Democratic Party and defending democracy. Our mission: rally Democrats to vote. In the 2022 election cycle, our team of more than 5,000 knocked 1.7 million doors in support of Democrats up and down the ballot.

McKenna, Campaign Fellows Class of ’22, and her candidate, Ohio State Representative Sean Brennan, on the campaign trail.

At Progressive Turnout Project, we’re committed to the present and future of our fight to defend democracy. That’s why we make long-term investments, why we stay up to date on the latest voter contact methods, and why we support Democratic campaigns up and down the ballot through our Campaign Fellows Program.

Campaign Fellows are our way of directly supporting Democratic candidates by embedding staffers on state and federal campaigns who are dedicated to direct voter contact — the most effective way to rally Democrats to vote. Each cohort of Fellows, who have been hand-selected by their campaigns, receives training, mentorship, and support from our team throughout the fellowship.

Creating a paid position on a candidate’s team and filling it with a voter-contact expert pays off immediately. It bolsters Democratic campaigns — where time, money, and volunteers are often in short supply. And, the Campaign Fellows Program adds dozens of newly equipped organizers to the Democratic ecosystem, many of them with wins under their belts. 

One of those Fellows, McKenna, found her winning campaign almost by accident. She went on to become a first-time campaign manager, won the race in Ohio’s 14th legislative district, and is now working in the General Assembly in Columbus. Here’s the story, in their own words:

Representative Sean Brennan was out knocking doors and stumbled into his Fellow by chance.  

“I was actually door-knocking over the summer, and I knocked on this door in Cleveland, and nobody came to the door. So, I left my lit and proceeded to knock on other homes on that street. I looked back and saw a young man come out of that house, so I walked down and started talking to him. 

I hear he went to my son’s high school and he knew my son! I said, ‘You’re a young bright hard-working Democrat.’ But, he’s busy because he’s in law school. I said ‘Do you know anyone else who kind of fits that description?’ And he said, ‘Well, I think my sister might be interested, she just graduated from college back in the spring and she wants to get more involved in the political arena.’ And I said, ‘Well, give me her  cell phone number,’ and of course, I contacted her right away. I knew with that first conversation that she would be perfect.”

– Ohio State Representative Sean Brennan

The young woman he was connected with that day, McKenna, went on to join the 2022 cohort of Campaign Fellows and become a member of Sean’s campaign team.

“When Sean reached out to me, I immediately accepted because he is just a great man and I was so fortunate to be encouraged by him to be a part of his team and to work on his campaign.

Sean became kind of like my campaign dad. He’s just a great role model for anybody. He is very community and service oriented and I’m very lucky to be working for somebody so sincere, and so genuine. A true mentor and role model for me.”

– McKenna, Campaign Fellows Class of ’22

Once she accepted her position on the campaign, she was introduced to our Fellows team, her coordinator, and the rest of her cohort to begin training for election season. 

“I had such a great experience with my peers that were fellows, my coordinator, my leader, and my mentor, Ben, who was just absolutely excellent and so encouraging throughout the entire process, even when it did get difficult. I’m just very thankful that I had so much support, and that I owe so much of that to [Progressive Turnout Project].

– McKenna

Representative Brennan attributes much of his campaign’s success to McKenna’s hard work, ambition, and ingenuity. She took on the challenge of working as his campaign manager while he had his hands full in the classroom.

“The fact that I had a paid staff member that could really take over the campaign for me as the school year started was just a godsend. I mean, the timing could not have been more perfect. We started back at school right after Labor Day, and that’s when McKenna took over and just kept the campaign going all the way up until Election Day.

This literally was the best thing that happened to the campaign.”

– Rep. Brennan

As campaign manager, McKenna would meet with other candidates and campaigns and spend a lot of time working with volunteers. But her favorite part was interacting so closely with the community she was serving.  

“I was able to meet so many people from the community, and that really changed my life, it touched me. And I took that very seriously, that the interactions that I was having with these people in the district have an effect on how they vote. And voting, of course, directly affects the quality of our lives, for us and for people we may not even consider.”

– McKenna

McKenna’s passion was evident, and her efforts paid off. Sean won, and is currently serving as the new Representative for his district — and he’s bringing McKenna along as his legislative aide. 

I don’t think we could have done it without her without all of her hard work. 

Everybody that came in contact with us throughout the campaign just loved her. She’s got a great personality, is hard working, thinks outside the box, good Democrat. In fact, she did such a great job that I offered for her to be my aide in Columbus at the State House, and she agreed. 

– Rep. Brennan

McKenna and Representative Brennan introducing their first bill at the Ohio Statehouse.

McKenna is thrilled for the launch of her political career.

I never thought that I’d have this opportunity so I’m very excited.

I just can’t wait to get started, and working for Sean is rewarding in itself because he’s so sincere, and somebody that is really close to me in my life now, and I know that we’re going to be doing great work for the people who live in our district and that just makes me really proud.

I never would have foreseen working for Sean, but he needed somebody, and the rest is history. 

– McKenna

When we followed up with the pair about working together at the statehouse, they said it was going phenomenally. As Representative Brennan suspected, McKenna is just as big of an asset at the capitol as she was on the campaign trail.

“She has the most important quality of a public servant — empathy,” Brennan said. “The residents of District 14 are blessed to have her serving them. I always tell her that it will be an honor one day when she’s governor to say it all started in my office.”

To support Campaign Fellows like McKenna, or any of our other programs that rally Democrats to vote, you can volunteer with us or contribute here.