Across the nation, hundreds of electric cooperative advocates are engaging presidential candidates and taking center stage at campaign events. The goal? Ensure that the next president of the United States understands the co-op difference from day one.

These foot soldiers are part of the Co-op Rural Power program, a national campaign aimed at getting 2016 White House aspirants to think about and articulate their plans to ensure continued access to safe, affordable, reliable, and environmentally responsible power.

The program, which gives consumer-members, Youth Tour students, and co-op staff the chance to attend campaign events and engage candidates one-on-one, was first launched by the Iowa Association of Electric Cooperatives (statewide) during the 2012 presidential election.

“Our interactions on the campaign trail pay dividends once the candidates either win the presidency or return to influential positions in Washington and around the country,” says Tim Coonan, the Iowa statewide’s director of government relations.

NRECA recently partnered with Iowa to expand the program nationally. Since summer 2015, Rural Power advocates have asked candidates about their energy policy during nationally televised forums and have attended more than a hundred campaign events nationwide.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie even decided to kick off a tour of Iowa with a speech at the Iowa statewide’s annual meeting.

Youth Tour participants have been strong advocates in Rural Power. More than 20 students represented the program at the Iowa Democratic Party’s annual Jefferson- Jackson Dinner. And during a recent town hall meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, Republican candidate Donald Trump told Youth Tour student Logan Perry he supports Rural Power’s efforts: “I’ve gotten to know you really well. You people know how to do it. We’re backing you 100 percent.”

“What separates this from any other group is that Rural Power is presented by the members themselves,” says Jordan Pope, a Youth Tour participant from Chariton Valley REC. “Candidates see real people with real problems that need to be addressed. Rural Power gives co-ops a voice that we have never had before.”