Working for a Campaign 101
January 4, 2019 12:30 PM   Subscribe

I am being recruited to work on a presidential campaign in a mid-level/professional position. My background is in policy. I have zero campaign or political experience. What are some good resources to learn about working on a modern campaign? Points if it's more focused on HQ and high-level work... I've found lots of stories of 22-year-old college grads doing scheduling/advance work and living on Red Bull and no showers. But what is it like to be one of the adults in the room? (Especially an adult with a family I'd sometimes like to see...)
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (11 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Amy Chozick wrote a book about covering Hillary's 2016 campaign, "Chasing Hillary." The amount of travel she did seemed insane. She also had a partner back at home. Won't apply if you don't have to follow the candidate around in that way.
posted by tooloudinhere at 12:45 PM on January 4, 2019 [5 favorites]

I have worked on presidential campaigns in the past. You can memail me to talk if you want.
posted by brookeb at 3:03 PM on January 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

I was one of the floor sleeping red-bull chugging 25 year olds in 2008 and somewhere closer to being an adult in the room in 2012. I think Who Thought This Was A Good Idea by Alyssa Mastromonaco does a pretty good job of capturing some of the flavor of a campaign (though she traveled a lot more than a policy person would). Happy to speak ad nauseam about campaign life if you want to drop me a MeMail. Good luck!
posted by fancypants at 4:02 PM on January 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

You could ask the campaign to put you in touch with people who have experience in roles similar to what they are asking you to take on.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 6:54 PM on January 4, 2019

Campaign Bootcamp by Nancy Pelosi's daughter, whose name escapes me at the moment, is pretty great on the basics of what an actual campaign looks like and what you can expect. It's more focused on congressional campaigns, natch, but has lots of great info for every level.
posted by klangklangston at 7:14 PM on January 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

I really only know field, which is ground zero for living-on-Red Bull, though I like to think I'm an adult. But I know field really well at this point. Feel free to memail me.
posted by dogheart at 7:42 PM on January 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

Haven't done it, know plenty who have.

Some anecdotal highlights which of course could be non-representative:

Workload is unpredictable, and even when things are light (as they can be for policy people) you end up spending a lot of nights and weekends in the office.

Your papers and contributions to speeches can and will be ignored regularly, and you will be asked to conform yourself to interest groups. (Check your contrarianism at the door, TYVM.)

Zero job security: policy staff are the lowest priority for funds at all time and you will get a salary cut or fired if things get rough. (Priorities you rank behind include fundraising, candidate travel, paid media, social media management, field, etc.)

It's fun and occasionally thrilling while you're doing it, but virtually always ends in a flavor of personal disappointment. Every candidate but one loses. And if your candidate wins -- i.e., you're a campaign policy aide to the friggin' President-elect of the United States -- parlaying that into an administration job that is interesting, with a good boss, reasonable salary and time to live your life, is hard.
posted by MattD at 10:14 PM on January 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Even if you're one of the so-called adults in the room, your life still revolves around the campaign. After all, you have a finite amount of time to make the maximum impact. If I were you, I'd expect to work every day and always be on call. If you're not passionate about getting this person elected enough to commit to that level of participation, this may not be right for you. Working on a campaign isn't just a job - it's really a cause you have to devote yourself to.

The further out you are from the election, the less intense it is, but it is a major commitment and will only get more intense as it goes on. I know people on presidential campaigns who didn't even go to their hometowns to see their families for Christmas. I worked on one at headquarters as a mid-level person and I worked every day - weekends didn't exist. In my roles, I often dealt directly with policy people and they worked the same hours I did, although I didn't deal with the head of policy or anything. Leaving at 5pm was not something that happened. Some people took their laptops home with them around 5pm and continued working from home so they could see their families, etc. but everyone worked day and night. I did take a day off to host family in town who visited me but otherwise didn't take any days off. I've done lower level campaigns and campaigns that were easier (we were ahead the whole time, stakes didn't feel quite as high) and in those cases we didn't work weekends but were still always available - my experience was that a presidential campaign was more intense. If your candidate does get elected, you can try to get a job in the transition team or in the administration, if that sort of thing appeals to you, so that could set you up well if that's a goal of yours. Many people I worked with did but I wasn't interested so I can't tell you how that process worked.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:32 PM on January 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Secondhand from a friend who worked for Clinton: the hours were absolutely brutal because the only thing you absolutely, positively, cannot get more of is time. For him, the campaign scheduled overtime (not what they called it, or how they paid it, either) starting a few months before the election and getting more and more aggressive as the date neared. He was single and looking for something to do between jobs, so it worked out for him. I don't think he spent very much time at home.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 11:35 PM on January 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

I mean, I don't know about policy-side stuff, I really don't, and while I happen to think campaigning is the most fun and rewarding thing you could do for a paycheck, it's brutal. I've done two and a half cycles straight, and five campaigns. Burnout is a very real phenomenon, even for someone with an unholy amount of drive. Be sure. Be really, really sure, because best-case scenario, this is going to be your life until November 2020. 'Work-life balance' is generally not really a concept. And while field is probably the place where this is the most true, it's going to be true across all departments. That said, this far out, it's likely to be pretty chill for a while.

And really, can you think of a better use of your time than helping to get a Democrat elected in 2020? Because I sure can't. You'll never have more fun at a job. Even when it sucks, it's awesome. (Seriously, feel free to memail me.)
posted by dogheart at 11:39 PM on January 5, 2019

I wouldn't have the stamina for it anymore, unfortunately.

Before it starts, eat healthfully and work out! Do everything you have to do to maintain optimum health and stamina before you start. Buy extra underwear, socks, and shirts

You'll never have more fun at a job. Even when it sucks, it's awesome.

So well put, and so true!
posted by jgirl at 8:01 AM on January 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

« Older The Joy of (Chinese) Cooking   |   Halp! Holidays equals no alone time Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.