I worked on political campaigns for a little over a year — and it was the worst year of my life.
I went to college in the nation’s capital, and by default, was thrust into the world of politics. During my time in school, I interned with the Office of the U.S. Attorney General, both sides of Congress, and the United States Supreme Court. Pretty impressive, right? Well, I thought so at least. After attending a school that costs roughly a kidney, a firstborn, and hundreds of thousands of dollars, I was feeling pretty good about myself when I crossed that graduation stage in May of 2012. I had gone to a great (or, at least a decent enough) school and had a fairly impressive résumé. I was going places. I was doing things. I was going to kick ass, take names, and become someone of importance. Basically, I was an Olivia Pope (the hot black girl from “Scandal” — you know, the show that every girl you know is obsessed with) in the making.
Fast forward one year and there I was: depressed, jaded, and fat. 12 months of working on campaigns and I was a fucking mess. I’ll back up a bit.
In July of 2012 I packed up my ‘07 Volvo sedan covered in McCain/Palin, sorority letter, and Romney stickers and headed south down I-95. I was going to be heading a field office in one of the most important counties in one of the most important states: Tampa, Florida. My first day of work was the Tuesday after Fourth of July weekend. By Wednesday, I knew I had made a huge mistake. I was the only staffer in my tiny office located between a jail, an airport, and a high school for troubled teens. The area was so bad that my father insisted I either come home to Virginia or get my concealed carry permit. I chose the latter.
Three months prior, I was some sorority girl drunk at a field day. Now? I was some sorority girl with way too much responsibility…and a gun. The ridiculousness was/is not lost on me.
I worked seven days a week, 12, 18, 24 hour days, for four months straight while working on the Romney/Ryan campaign. I averaged two all-nighters a week, though that number exponentially increased come October. I was in charge of one third of the second-most important county in the country. Under my direction, I organized a team of hundreds of volunteers (including the Georgia CRs, something that, still, to this day, I do not know how I pulled off) who knocked on over 26,000 doors in one day. I shattered RNC records. I was promised a phone call from Reince Priebus, a meeting with Paul Ryan, and a job in D.C. come November. None of that ever happened — though, I understand that when you’re running a national campaign, “rewarding” a 22-year-old is on the bottom of the to-do list. I made walkbooks, made phone calls, manually input thousands and thousands of data numbers, organized volunteers, events, watch parties, stocked my office with groceries, and appeased my county’s elderly and crotchety Republican Executive Committee (REC).
I was screamed at by volunteers, accosted by Obama supporters, and dealt with methhead Florida homeless people who fell asleep in my office’s back room. I was called a “prissy bitch,” a “racist,” and a “Romney cunt” to my face by protesters. I had a lack of supplies, a lack of help, and a lack of sleep. I repeated “yard signs don’t win elections, people do” more times than I could count and explained to overzealous “birthers” that regardless of whether or not Obama’s birth certificate is real, he really wasn’t/isn’t going to get impeached. I subsisted off of Papa John’s pizza, cheap bourbon, and Excedrin Migraine. I gained roughly 17 pounds and I was paid the equivalent of $24,000 a year.
On November 6, 2012, we lost. And just like that, all of the hard work, the sleepless nights, the tears and the pure fucking exhaustion, it was over. I packed up my office the next day, mailed my equipment to some warehouse in Tennessee, and drove back up I-95. I had nothing to show for the past four months of my life other than a few extra pounds and a couple of pats on the back from my direct bosses. They promised they’d call me with a job offer, that even though we’d lost, my hard work deserved reward. They never called.
I went on to work on two more campaigns, a Lieutenant Governor campaign that would ultimately be decided in a convention in Virginia and a special election Congressional race for Tim Scott’s former seat in South Carolina. We lost both.
Campaigns are a crapshoot. That was possibly the toughest pill to swallow. My hard work, my dedication, my love and respect for the candidate…it didn’t matter. It didn’t come down to me. It came down to the people voting — and that is something that you, as a staffer, have no control over. I worked seven days a week for a little over a year. I gained weight. I lost sleep. I missed weddings, I missed births, I missed life events, and my relationship of over a year ended. For one year, my life was someone other than myself, a cause other than myself.
If this account comes off as bitter — it’s because it is. It’s because I am bitter. I’m bitter that we lost. I’m bitter that I dedicated a year of my life to something and I have nothing tangible to show for it. I’m bitter when I tell people I ran the top office in the country for the Romney/Ryan campaign, I’m met with “Well, you obviously didn’t work hard enough.” I’m bitter that our country has a president, a Lieutenant Governor, and a U.S. Congressman that I neither worked for, nor voted for. I’m bitter because I don’t know if I could’ve done more — if one more door or one more phone call or one more dollar would’ve made a difference. I’m bitter because I will never know what could’ve been.
I’m often asked if I would go back, knowing what I know now, and do it again. My answer is always “yes.” I worked on political campaigns for a little over a year — and it was the worst year of my life. But I would, without a doubt, do it again.
I have seen the very discussion of working on campaigns after college in the forum countless times, so, to those of you reading this and wondering the same thing: do it. Working on a campaign will nearly kill you. It will force you to do things you never thought you could accomplish. It will push you, test you, and come close to breaking you, but it’s worth it.
I don’t have any wins under my belt, but I have experience. I have stories. I can watch the news and know that I did everything in my power to change this country for the better — and that is a powerful feeling. .