PSS Winter '13

PULTENEY STREET SURVEY - WINTER 2013

Lauren Zeitler ’09 worked for the Republican Party as a director of surrogate
scheduling on Mitt Romney’s election effort.

Words from Opposite Ends

Behind the scenes of every political candidate giving a speech at a podium, shaking hands and kissing babies are the many people – advisers, staffers and volunteers – who work to get them elected. Existing in an atmosphere of adrenaline, emotion, rapid-fire decision making and multitasking, these individuals dedicate themselves to ensuring that their candidate reaches office. Among them are many HWS alums including Nicholas Howie ’02, a political research and policy analyst who worked for the Democratic Party on President Barack Obama’s re-election effort, and Lauren Zeitler ’09 who served as director of surrogate scheduling for the Republican Party on former Governor Mitt Romney’s election effort. As the campaign heat intensified, each took a moment to provide a peak at their political lives.

Lauren Zeitler ’09
My first day of work, I walked into the office and I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I was nervous – sweaty palms, alert and ready to take anything that came at me.

Since then, it’s safe to say I’ve never lost that sense of nervous energy. As days have passed, I’ve come to live off adrenaline and sometimes seek it. For the days that never seem to end, it’s sometimes the ONLY thing that helps me get through the 18-hour work day. Well, that and knowing that the two men I’m proud to work for–Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan– work even harder and longer hours than I do.

Campaign life is far from glamorous. Behind the “attack ads” and rhetoric, there’s a truly loveable lifestyle rooted in loyalty, camaraderie and patience. And let’s not forget the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and beer.

At HWS, I played on the golf team. Trusting my instincts, patience and dedication were all part of the game. It’s the moments where I have to make the split second decision, where I have to trust my own instincts, that I really shine.

People ask me all the time, “what’s a typical day for you?” The best part about my job is that there is absolutely no such thing as typical. On a daily basis, I’ll work with everyone from members of Congress to former and current governors as well as celebrities. It really depends on what’s going on. Making sure their needs are met, while also balancing the needs of the campaign, is the top priority. All while making it look effortless.

The rawness of the campaign is what is most fascinating. Emotions and stress run high. Tempers flare. It’s the rawness of emotion– this true vulnerability–that has made me learn a lot about myself. I’ll never forget the first time I lost my temper. After a heated battle, I called the next day to apologize.

Within two days, I had a package on my desk with a handwritten note:

“Lauren, I heard this was your brand. Hope you enjoy it, and I very much look forward to working with you for the rest of the year. We are going to win, and it’s going to be great.”

The note was propped up against a bottle of Jameson. A few weeks later, after a long day in the office, I shared that bottle of whiskey with some co-workers. Teamwork, patience and a sense of humor go a long way.

Nicholas Howie ’02 worked for the Democratic Party as a political research and
policy analyst on President Barack Obama’s re-election effort. He’s pictured here
in Chicago, Ill.

Nicholas Howie ’02
There is a particular vulnerability, grace, grit and magic that makes politics so captivating. Beyond the public spectacles of floor speeches, bill signings, press quotes in the media, “gotcha attacks” at debates, and the handshaking at rallies, it is the collection of quieter, more personal moments that I have come to relish – the snapshots in time that reveal the raw, human, and sometimes ironic nature of politics’ true essence.

Early in 2000, I was an HWS student in a political science course taught by Professor of Public Policy and Political Science Craig Rimmerman. The late Robert Drinan, S.J., a Jesuit priest, law professor, and former U.S. Representative from Massachusetts, was a guest lecturer. To my surprise, Father Drinan pointed at me and asked: “What is politics?” Certainly I can articulate what politics is – my entire undergraduate experience as a public policy major and a campus leader who organized forums, class trips, and local events, was centered on politics. But instead, my mouth hung open and I was wordless. After a momentary silence, Father Drinan quietly declared, “Politics is…who controls the money.”

Can the two-party system, campaign finance, special interests, lobbying, government contracts, education funding, pensions, and referendums all boil down to that one statement? The brilliance of his explanation was that it made perfect sense on one level, but left us yearning for more. Left us wondering how it really works behind-thescenes and who is involved. The question, “What is politics?” haunted me.

Within weeks of finishing classes at HWS, I joined the presidential campaign for Vermont’s outgoing governor, Howard Dean. As an assistant of sorts, my duties included random tasks like handling phone calls, checking mail, looking up news articles, organizing internal phone lists, and other assignments that seemed to fit nicely into the category of “special operations.” One of my first desks was a stack of brown cardboard boxes flipped upside down at the end of a long hallway stationed in earshot of the campaign’s manager, Joe Trippi. Trippi was a political guru of sorts and had been working on campaigns since the mid-1970s. He was fluent in the language and flow of political campaigns, an art that I had only begun to understand. On a typical day, Trippi shuffled from room to room, often pausing in his own office doorway before remembering something that had slipped his mind and shouting a directive toward one of several staffers. One afternoon he stopped at my boxes, rumpled as always, caffeinated, and without blinking, vaguely described an article he’d read and wanted printed out: “Neocons. Iraq. I think it was in The Weekly Standard, maybe it was Bill Kristol.” He stared at me waiting for acknowledgement that I understood exactly what he was asking for. But I didn’t. I nodded back, half-reassuringly, as he lumbered into his office.

Soon, I was tasked with a role that many fledgling politicos before and after me start out with – compiling news clips very early in the day. One cold morning in December 2003, I was alone in the campaign office gathering articles before the sun rose. Quickly, news emerged that Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein had been captured by U.S. military forces. Major world news with incredible political implication. I muted the televisions and called our traveling press secretary who was with Governor Dean on a fundraising swing in the West Coast, where it was the middle of the night. He was half-asleep when I told him what had unfolded. We hung up the phone and my heart pounded. I desperately wanted someone to burst through the office doors so that I could share the up-to-the minute reports of what had happened. But I sat alone in silence for a moment looking out of the window. It was still dark outside.

A few years later, I was in a restroom at a convention center. It was a momentary pause in the day as I was getting ready to help manage “rapid response” efforts for a debate between two candidates vying for an open seat in the U.S. Senate. I had been on the Democratic candidate’s campaign for several months and we had held numerous mock debates, created hundreds of pages in briefing material, and poured over potential incoming lines of criticism and their counter-arguments. It was not my first debate, but it was the first time I was in charge of the research at a debate.

Suddenly the bathroom door swung open. The opposing candidate walked in. He didn’t see me as he placed his hands on either side of a sink and leaned over it like he was going to be sick. He took a deep breath and made his way to a stall. Here I was, with the state’s one-time most powerful figurehead – alone, ill and nervous, working to gather his nerves. I quickly exited and found two of the former governor’s aides blocking the entrance. They hadn’t realized I was in there. I slipped by them, wishing I had the guts to turn back and see the shocked expressions on their faces.

I walked down the large corridor toward my candidate’s debate “war room.” It was almost time for both men to make their way to the stage, and our entourage was prepared to exit. The conference table was littered with laptops, folders, markers, cookie crumbs, empty water bottles, and paper cups of cold coffee. An aide adjusted the candidate’s tie for the last time. The room was hot. My palms were sweaty. Our candidate tilted his head and chin, and rolls his shoulders like a boxer leaving the dressing room. I clung to a large binder stuffed with “debate prep” materials. There was no more time for practice.

 

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