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The Daily Need

Interview with Phil Davison, the man behind one of the most intense stump speeches ever

Updated | 4:50 p.m. Phil Davison is a councilman in the village of Minerva, Ohio, population 3,934. He has four degrees from the University of Akron — two bachelors degrees, in history and sociology, and two masters degrees, in communication and public administration. He’s worked in factories, at the local Target and, for eight years, as a bailiff at the Stark County Court of Common Pleas. He left that position last year, and has been unable to find work since.

“I’m looking for something right now, to see what turns up,” Davison said in an interview from his home in Minerva. “I’ve been turned down for minimum wage jobs.” He makes a $260-a-month stipend as a village councilman, which adds up to roughly $3,120 a year. “I certainly can’t live on that, but that’s all I’m doing right now.”

That, and running for office. Davison, a lifelong Republican, sought the local party’s nomination for treasurer of Stark County in Ohio on Wednesday night, his third run for countywide office. He has lost all three times.  “It’s difficult,” Davison said. “It takes money, and I don’t have much of that.”

But what Davison lacks in funding, he apparently makes up for in passion. His speech to the Stark County Republican Committee Wednesday night was recorded by a local political blogger working for The Huffington Post’s citizen journalism initiative and posted online, where, unsurprisingly, it went viral. Some of the Internet’s most influential political blogs, including MSNBC’s First Read and Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire, posted the video as well.

In his first post-fame interview, Davison told Need to Know that he was baffled by all the attention. He wasn’t especially angry when he gave the speech, and nothing in particular had set him off, he said. Afterward, he received a polite reception from the audience, and when he lost the nomination, Davison approached the winner, shook his hand and said “Good luck.”

“Some people call it fanaticism. I call it being a believer,” Davison said. He confessed, though, that some amount of frustration with his personal situation — his inability to find and keep even a minimum-wage job, the crumbling of his youthful ideals into hard-bitten, world-weary pragmatism — may have informed his speech.

“I’m living what I spoke last night,” Davison said. “People are frustrated out there. People want change. I really sense that our country is really looking for people or a party or an idea to get involved with, and I’m one of those people too. I want to get involved. That’s why I ran for treasurer.”

Somehow, like so many meandering twenty-somethings, Davison never quite figured out what he wanted in life. “My career idea was to get out of college and make a difference in people’s lives,” Davison said. “I want to help the people who have nothing. I identify with those people. I’m the son of a mailman. My father was a mailman, my mother worked as a clerk for minimum wage the bulk of her life. And I said, you know, I want to help people who don’t have much. And I got out of college with that idealism, and I said, ‘Let’s see what I can do.'”

Of his situation now, at age 39, he added: “You would think a guy with four college degrees isn’t working blue-collar jobs in factories. And that’s what I’ve done.”

As for his politics, Davison has served as a Republican member of the Minerva Council for 13 years, but, despite the boiling anger that characterized his speech, describes himself as a “liberal.” He also identifies with the activist energy of the Tea Party movement, and proposes forming “a new radical branch of the Republican Party that does bring in the Tea Party activists, and that does bring in, perhaps, liberal Republicans.”

Of the party as a whole, he added: “I think the days of the mainstream Republican need to change.”

What’s next for Davison remains unclear. He’s considering becoming a teacher, he said, to help kids “learn about the world” — “I’m not saying I’m an expert on it,” he cautioned — and to “tell them to ‘follow your dreams. Whatever gets you excited in life, go for it.'”

He wouldn’t foreclose another run for office, either.

“My speech last night — I knew it might be a little over the edge, but that’s how I felt at the time,” Davison said. “If it spurs someone to go on and say, ‘You know what, I want to go up there and talk like that too, I want to make a difference, I want to get involved in my community.’ If it affects one person in a positive way, then it was worth it.”

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