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Life on the campaign trail

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 21/02/2016 John Roman, Ph.D.

2016-02-21-1456074450-2396498-campaignimage.jpg © Provided by The Huffington Post 2016-02-21-1456074450-2396498-campaignimage.jpg
Hunter S. Thompson famously chronicled life on the campaign trial. Perhaps there is nothing left to say. But perhaps it's worth a reminder of what life on a campaign is like. It's easy to forget the humanity behind the messaging.
A quarter century ago, I worked in politics. I worked one election cycle, six campaigns. I won twice, lost twice and was fired twice. I was a deputy political director on a presidential bid, a finance director on a Congressional race, campaign manager of a state representative race and had vague job credentials on the other three. My maximum salary was $1,200 a month. I was grateful to be paid; almost no one else was.
About once a month, I would wrap everything I owned in green garbage bags and throw them into the back of my base model pick-up truck, one with no air conditioning, a manual transmission and hand-cranked windows, and move. Washington, DC. Lynchburg, VA. Washington, DC. Roanoke, VA. Washington, DC. St. Petersburg, FL (where I moved three times) and back to Washington. And a brief foray into Northern Virginia. Ten moves in ten months.

It was equally exhilarating and debilitating.
On the exhilarating side, I met everybody. I shook hands with every presidential candidate, Clinton, Harkin and Brown. Bob Kerrey bought me a Big Mac after I watched, mostly alone, the chilling image of this Medal of Honor winner walk through a veteran's cemetery on a gray Veterans' Day. I met all of the huge personalities of the day: Jesse Jackson, Jack Germond, everyone. I got a hug from Paul Tsongas. I almost (but thankfully did not) knock down Coretta Scott King when she bustled from her car as I obliviously tromped down the sidewalk. A 2nd tier, but serious, regional newspaper ran a front page story about my adventures. It was heady stuff for a 22 year-old.
But the flip side was worse than the upside was rewarding. Perhaps it's no surprise that I now do cost-benefit analysis for a living. I'm still chewing on the calculus of a high-profile life.
I would wake up at nine in the morning, start work with a conference call at 10, work in the office until 5 or so, run from the call center to campaign events in the evening, try and catch up on paper work at night, and sit on a two hour wrap conference call that generally started at midnight, and went to 2 AM or later. There would be follow-up work and a vague attempt at sleep. Saturday was our respite. Generally we shut down the call center at 7 PM or so and didn't report for work until noon on Sunday. That was our off day. This went on for almost a year. Nobody's shooting at you, but it is war.
I've heard candidate's say jaw-dropping things in private. I've been berated by family for associating with candidates they despised. I was subject to very public and profane tirades for being eight minutes late early morning meetings after two hours of sleep.
The Jack Germond story sums up the pearls and perils of campaign life. After a momentous Florida event, we took the presidential candidate to the airport, and Jack Germond, a lion of journalism and then a stalwart on The McLaughlin Group, happened to be on our airport shuttle. My boss told me to chat him up and keep him away from the candidate. I did that. I have no idea what I was saying. I was so engrossed in talking to the Jack Germond, one on one, think about being a recent college graduate talking with Bill O'Reilly or Rachel Maddow, that moments passed before I realized the entire senior staff was making throat-slicing gestures from the other end of the tram to tell me to shut up. I was told later that I was to be fired on the spot.
In campaign land, every day is critical to the tournament: split second decisions determine who survives and advances.
I've seen former colleagues exit Air Force One with the president, and still see people I know on the cable news circuit. I am happy for them. But, I realized eventually that their business, and my former business, was really marketing. Branding and messaging. Lifting up, accelerating, scaling and leaning in. There is nothing ignominious about marketing, but that was not my life goal. So I walked away.
But do know that every time you see a candidate on live TV, doing a free media hit, and the bookshelves behind them are perfectly ordered, with carefully selected volumes tilted just so, some 22 year-old stayed up all night getting that frame perfectly aligned with their values.

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