By Danielle Builta. Originally published in the PHC Herald, 12/2/11.
Patrick Henry College
Dunlap with Glen Urquhart and former Virginia governor George Allen
“I’ve always loved politics,” she said.
As a four-year-old, Dunlap asked her parents to “turn on Lush Simbaugh!” meaning “Rush Limbaugh,” to whom she listened avidly.
“I didn’t understand a word he said, but apparently I really enjoyed it!”
The tragedy of 9/11 solidified her convictions. Dunlap and her family watched the coverage at her grandparents’ house, worried about her father, a Master Sergeant at Dover Air Force base, which was also under a bomb threat.
“I can’t imagine what it was like to lose someone that day, because it was so scary to even have the possibility of losing someone,” she said.
“I remember the adults saying, ‘Go into the other room,’ but I said, ‘No, I want to see it.’” The eight-year-old Dunlap decided then that she “wanted to serve her country.”
With her family history in the military, Dunlap figured she would be a Secret Service or CIA agent and protect politicians. In 2008, when Obama was elected, Dunlap felt the urgency to act personally.
“I knew that was the time to stop thinking about politics…I went from wanting to protect politicians to wanting to be a politician,” she said.
Despite her family’s lack of connections in Delaware politics, Dunlap and her brother started a Young Republican’s club. She also wrote an editorial titled “Be American and Take a Stand.” As the club took off, Dunlap found herself on a local radio station encouraging young people to get involved.
A county councilman heard her and invited her to work on Glen Urquhart’s campaign for Delaware’s only federal congressional seat. She called her mom, “so excited that I was going to do legit work on a campaign!”
She began as his social media director, but after she assisted him at a meeting she attended to take pictures for his Facebook page, Urquhart made her his full-time personal assistant.
She made sure Urquhart met everyone he needed to, traveled with him to his meetings, and, along with the campaign manager, acted as a “bottleneck” from the rest of the campaign to the candidate.
On a typical day, “it was me, the candidate, the driver, and a campaign volunteer… When I wasn’t helping him rehearse his speeches, I was reading or writing or directing campaign volunteers.”
Schoolwork was necessary because, while working 40-70 hours a week, Dunlap also attended a classical Christian high school. As a competitive figure skater, she continued performing in shows and coaching.
“I put 27,000 miles on my car in six months.”
Coordinating Urquhart’s schedule was a difficult responsibility, forcing the 17-year-old Dunlap to mature fast.
“You had to take the blame sometimes, so the candidate didn’t look bad.”
Her age was not an issue. “They all thought I’d graduated from college. The candidate didn’t even know how old I was until three weeks after I had the job.” Her competency impressed Urquhart, who asked her to give his nominating speech to the Delaware Republican Convention. She became a minor political sensation in Delaware because of her speech, after a blogger named her one of three “Women to Watch in the Delaware GOP.”
While Urquhart won the Republican primary, he lost the general election. The whirlwind political campaign took a toll on Dunlap.
“You spend the whole time building up the campaign and in one day it either comes all crashing down, or it explodes into something spectacular… My entire life changed that day based on the votes of my fellow Delawareans.”
Every morning for weeks afterward, she woke up thinking “Wait! I have to get to Glen’s house and… wait a second.” Dunlap, who says she can be “obsessed with work,” felt the emotional reverberations. The campaign manager told her at the beginning, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” which helped later.
That December, Dunlap was diagnosed with a five-year-old case of Lyme disease. It took her to the hospital once during the campaign, and again afterwards. “At first, I thought, ‘God, why me? Of all the times to get sick, this is the worst.’”
But through the unpredictability of politics and her own health, Dunlap learned that “everything is in God’s hands.”
Her college decision was another example of God’s direction. Paul Protic, former PHC faculty and Urquhart’s campaign manager, pressed Dunlap to consider PHC, though she resisted. When Dunlap and her family visited PHC, though, she fell in love with its political focus and strong Christian emphasis. The proximity to Delaware also meant that she could keep up with her political connections.
Despite her political success (she currently has four offers to work on congressional, senatorial, and gubernatorial campaigns in Delaware), serving her country is Dunlap’s main focus. Government: Strategic Intelligence is a natural choice for her.
“I want to become a commanding officer in Naval intelligence, and then after I’ve served, I want to run for office.”
Meanwhile, after five years of politics, Dunlap is taking the time to enjoy life at college.
“It’s really nice to focus on studying and learning and have a chance to be normal.”