I interned on political campaigns in high school and college, so it was no shock to anyone when my first job after graduation was working on the 2012 presidential race. Following that November, I subsequently worked on two more races before eagerly tossing in the campaign towel. For me, working on campaigns was a growing experience. It was my first job out of college, and instead of pushing paper and getting coffee, I was running a field office in the most important county of the most important swing state. I pushed myself, I tested my limits, and I learned a lot. Like me, most operatives don’t stay in the game forever. Some move over to the legislative side, some go on to grad school, some branch out into a completely unrelated field, and some become the candidate he/she once griped about. Campaigns are one part mental warfare and one part physical exhaustion. It’s a game, baby, and there is only one winner. Welcome to the world of political campaigns. Put on your (door knocking) shoes, kiddo. It’s a rough ride.
1. The Hours Are Terrible
It doesn’t matter if you’re the campaign manager, a lowly field staffer, or somewhere in-between, you work all the time. Just like there’s no crying in baseball, there’s no downtime on a campaign. You work holidays, weekends, and frequently at 4am on a Tuesday. You’re averaging three to four hours of sleep on a good night, and even then you feel guilty because there’s always something else you should be doing. Sleep is for the dead, although you’re fairly positive that you are, in fact, dying.
2. The Vices
I didn’t really drink coffee before I started working on campaigns. I also didn’t drink Red Bull or smoke cigarettes. That all changed within about three hours of my arrival at my new office. Come to think of it, I’m fairly positive that I was greeted with a welcome bouquet consisting of Marlboro Lights, instant coffee, and enough energy drinks to fuel up a small army. The smoking and caffeine really start to take a toll on your health when you couple them with the fact that the only exercise you’re getting is from canvassing, and let’s be honest, canvassing is what volunteers are for. It’s okay though, you’ll stop smoking tomorrow. You’re definitely not addicted.
3. The Volunteers
We love our volunteers. But we also kind of hate our volunteers. They mean well, they really, really do, but that doesn’t make them any less annoying. Every now and then you get an eager high schooler or stay at home mom who is super helpful and drops off his/her completed walkbook (filled out correctly!!!!) every other day with a batch of fresh cookies. But for every one of those rare, beautiful specimens, there are one hundred angry older women who think that your rival is Satan incarnate and who are willing to do nothing other than “office work” which you do not have. Phones or doors, ladies, those are literally your only two options.
4. The Pay Is Almost Nonexistent
One of my coworkers once divided our monthly salary by the number of hours we actually worked on a given week, and I think our pay came to something like eighty cents an hour. Okay, maybe it wasn’t that bad, but it definitely wasn’t great. Unless you’re high up on a high profile race, chances are you’re not going to be bringing in the big bucks…which wouldn’t be so bad if you weren’t spending upwards of 130 hours a week on this job that barely pays you.
5. Relocating Sucks
Political operatives are glorified gypsies with JFK haircuts, a Macbook Pro, and a 2002 Jeep Cherokee that’s laden with campaign bumper stickers. It’s unusual for a staffer to stay in one county or even state for longer than six months to a year, depending on the race. As a result, operatives are always on the road. There are always races to be won, but that race could take you from Florida to Wyoming. Your living arrangements fall anywhere from an extended stay to a shitty studio apartment to the guest house of a donor. For however long you stay in the game, you are essentially living out of a suitcase, and it sucks.
6. Voter Outreach
You know how annoying it is when you’re eating dinner and some rude little shit calls you and wants to know personal information such as your age, your occupation, and who you’re voting for? Yeah, well let me tell you, it sucks even more to be on the giving end of those calls. The amount of times that an operative is told to “screw off,” “go to hell,” or “literally die” is upwards of about forty times a day. Add this excessive verbal assault with the fact that you haven’t slept in days, and it really is no surprise why every single staffer is a chain-smoking son of a bitch.
7. The Emotional Instability
Regardless of whether you love or hate or love to hate your candidate, there’s no way around it, you’re going to be emotionally invested in the outcome of the race. Election night is a highly emotional time, as the past few months of literal blood, sweat, and tears comes down to one thing: you either win or you lose. If your candidate wins, you may be guaranteed a job in D.C. or a state capital, if he/she loses, you pack up your jeep and move on to the next place with an unfortunate divot in your win-to-lose ratio.
8. They’re Unhealthy
The cigarettes and caffeine by day are bad enough to begin with. But then you add on the pizza or fast food that you’re shoving down your gullet in-between filling out expense reports and inputting data, and the fact that you have absolutely no time to work out, and you have a hot damn mess on your hands. And let’s not forget that 99% of all campaign staffers are moderately functioning alcoholics. Seriously, after an eighteen-hour workday, the only thing more enticing than sleep is a few double whiskeys on the rocks. There’s no way around it, your doctor will hate you.
9. The Hookups
Because of your insane hours, your only human interaction is with the McDonald’s drive-thru attendant, volunteers, and coworkers. Given the fact that volunteers are way off limits (as are drive-thru workers), odds are that you’re going to at some point or another, find your way into the bed (or at least the mouth) of a coworker. Some campaigns have strict policy of no “funny business” which leads to a lot of sneaking around and some uncomfortable noises coming from the copy room, while others are glorified orgies. It really just depends. Regardless, you have to work with these people. Choose wisely.
10. The What Ifs
At some point or another, you will lose, and losing sucks. It will make you question everything you did, every walkbook, every phone call, every rally, every fundraiser, every mail piece, etc. There are some things you can learn from, but a lot of a campaign is out of your control – and that is a tough pill to swallow. It’s so difficult losing a campaign and then seeing the person who won make a mockery of the position. Every bill, every vote, every speech, whatever it is, you disagree with it. It’s impossible not to daydream about how differently things might look if your candidate had been victorious, but that’s an emotionally and mentally exhausting road to go down. The people have spoken. What’s done is done. There are no re-dos.