It had been just 20 hours since my graduation ceremonies at Denison when I found myself back in Concord, N.H., sitting in front of the chairman and the executive director for the New Hampshire Democratic Party. I was interviewing for a campaign position within the party, but what, exactly, I didn’t know.
At the conclusion of the interview, they informed me that they would be sending out my resumé to match me with a state Senate candidate in need of a campaign manager. I kindly reminded the chairman and the executive director that I had no prior campaign experience and, frankly, no idea what a campaign manager’s responsibilities might be. They both assured me that I would be fine. Two days later, after another interview, they hired me as his campaign manager for the District 7 New Hampshire Senate race.
I shouldn’t say I had no campaign experience, just no real-life campaign experience. I had taken Professor Michael Brady’s “Campaign and Elections” course, during which I played the part of a fictional Democratic candidate for Congress hoping to secure the votes of my fellow students in a mock election. But this job with Hosmer was the real deal.
I took the reigns of his campaign on May 16, nearly six months before election day. It wasn’t long before I learned about one of the most important parts of a successful campaign: a well-thought-out budget with a continual set of financial procedures and cash-flow timelines. In short: you have to have the cash to have any hope of winning.
Initially, this was disappointing. I thought a well-planned and choreographed grassroots campaign would suffice. But the reality of politics is that if you’re not going to pour your personal finances into the campaign, you have to rely on a successful fundraising effort.
Some may jump to the conclusion that what I am portraying here is the common idea that money rules politics. But the truth is that politics today is about getting a specific, structured message out for months before an election to ensure a victory, and that costs money. (Keep in mind this money doesn’t always come from special interest groups and PACs. For example, Congresswoman-elect Annie Kuster of New Hampshire Congressional District 2 maintained an average individual donation of under $60 for her whole campaign. Impressive, considering she raised more than $2 million dollars.) So most of the first three months of my new job was spent in a room cold-calling targeted donors around the state and country.
There was another lesson in this, similar to one I had learned as that fictional Democratic candidate in Brady’s class: Running a campaign or running for office takes over your life, for better or worse. There are no weekends; your personal life is scrutinized (Facebook can very easily turn on you…); and the expectations of the party and voters fall on your back.
That being said, it is an absolutely worthwhile experience. There aren’t many jobs where you can go from knocking on a targeted voter’s door, to a meeting with lobbyists, to writing a press release. In many ways, it is the embodiment of a liberal arts education in the real world.
And it’s a wonderful “first job”—especially when your candidate wins the race.