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Political position: Alumnus has 'front-row seat' as 2016 election unfolds

Creighton alumnus Sean Gallitz, BA'09, navigates a crowd at a campaign rally. Gallitz, a digital journalist for CBS News, has been covering the 2016 presidential election since it started in the summer of 2015.On Jan. 3, 2008, the United States made history as an African-American candidate won the Iowa Democratic caucus, the first step on Barack Obama’s journey to the White House.

That same day in Washington, D.C., a Creighton University junior showed up for his first day as an intern on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Sean Gallitz, BA’09, had been in politics since he was a high schooler, serving as an intern or aide in the Capitol Hill offices of senators and congressmen including Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

Now, he was on the other side — the watchdog side — working on the oldest and arguably most influential television news program in history, led by one of the nation’s most respected political journalists, Tim Russert.

“He’s a big reason why I’m on this side of things,” said Gallitz, now a digital journalist for CBS News covering the 2016 presidential race. “Tim Russert is still venerated in the business. He was an amazing guy, an amazing mentor. But like he always said, he was just a kid from Buffalo. I feel a lot like that with how I’ve gotten started. I’m just a kid from Milwaukee.”

Russert, who delivered the commencement address at Creighton in 2006, died suddenly just three weeks after Gallitz’s internship on “Meet the Press” concluded but the old newsman’s imprint was indelible on Gallitz.

“That experience during the 2008 race sent me on this particular path,” Gallitz said.

But the larger path Gallitz has trod stretches a little further back. As a high-schooler, he decided to take a trip to the East Coast to visit a few of the colleges on his radar for his continuing education.

The trip swung him through Washington, D.C., where the kid from Milwaukee has family, and where the family has ties to the nation’s legislators. Struck by the first impression left by this young man, a few lawmakers offered him a summer internship, at which he jumped.

“I recognized the opportunity and fell in love with it right away,” Gallitz said of the political scene he encountered in Washington. “I went back to D.C. every summer after that, whether they asked me to or not. I just found jobs that I could do. I wanted to be where important decisions were being made.”

By the time he arrived on Creighton’s campus in the fall of 2005, Gallitz said his path was already pretty well chosen. He was a political science major in the College of Arts and Sciences from his first stride down Skinner Mall.

Continuing ringside in the political arena, Gallitz worked in the campaign office of then-Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, Ted Kennedy’s son, before deciding to make the leap to political coverage. That’s when the “Meet the Press” gig presented itself as part of Gallitz’s participation in Creighton’s Capitol Hill Internship Program (CHIP).

Creighton alumnus Sean Gallitz, BA'09, left, sits next to Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida on one of Rubio's charters during the 2016 primary campaign.“I couldn’t have done any of this without Creighton and CHIP,” he said. “The support I received there, the tools I have are thanks to the education I got.”

After his Creighton graduation in 2009, with jobs of any stripe still rare following the 2008 financial crisis, Gallitz jumped the Atlantic to England, where he earned a master’s degree in politics and mass media from the University of Liverpool. Getting a perspective of American politics abroad, Gallitz said, has been an integral component of his present career on the ground with CBS News.

Following four years in production with CBS This Morning, in June of 2015, Gallitz was tasked with picking up notebook and camera and becoming one of about 50 digital journalists (styled DJs in network lingo), embedded with the campaigns of the nearly two dozen candidates running for president. The DJs are one-stop-shop reporters, eating, drinking, sleeping the campaigns they follow.

“We shoot our own stuff, write up what we see, ride the press charters and the buses, just basically live with the campaign,” Gallitz said. “Other than a few weeks in June and August, I’ve been traveling more or less nonstop for the last year. I gave up my apartment in New York since I knew would never be there.”

As a Wisconsinite, Gallitz seemed a natural fit to follow his home state’s governor, Republican Scott Walker, who built one of the earliest and largest campaigns. But after announcing his candidacy in July 2015, Walker quickly found himself outside looking in, passed by the likes of Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and the eventually nominee, Donald Trump.

Walker’s early exit meant Gallitz bounced around the rest of the candidate camps. By the time of the conventions, he’d covered every serious contender in the race: 17 on the Republican side, three for the Democrats.

“Early on, they called me the Black Widow,” Gallitz joked. “Whichever campaign I was on, that candidate seemed to be the next one to drop out. But it did give me a good perspective on different styles and the effectiveness of each candidate.”

Ultimately, Gallitz spent the bulk of the primaries covering the Rubio campaign.Creighton alumnus Sean Gallitz, BA'09, behind the camera during a campaign stop during the presidential primaries in 2016. Gallitz is a digital journalist for CBS News.

His next assignment will be on the ground in the swing state of North Carolina, following both Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, along with filing stories on state and congressional races.

However the election turns out, he said, he knows he’s had a firsthand look at a watershed moment in American history.

“We as a nation are either going to elect the first woman or the first billionaire,” Gallitz said. “This has been a fascinating experience. It’s a front-row seat to history and the best reality TV show we have, one with real consequences.”

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