On The Campaign Trail

By Brittany Ross

I was always raised that the one thing you never discuss over dinner is politics. As someone who has managed to make a career out of political campaigns, I always cringe when that inevitable question “what do you do?” comes up – I either have to lie or break that cardinal dinner conversation rule.

Without a doubt, the next question asked of me is, “how did you get into that, and why?” In my case, as part of my degree in Government, I interned on a campaign in Austin and then participated in UT’s Bill Archer Fellowship Program, where I worked for EMILY ’s List, a D.C.-based political organization. After that I embarked on a seemingly endless road trip across the United States working to elect which- ever candidate I thought best suited for the office for which they were running.

Even more diverse than where I’ve worked are the people I’ve worked with on each campaign. From the candidate, to other staff and volunteers, each has a unique background and political perspective. They also have their own reasons for dedicating their time to each election. Dedication is the most important part of the job description and more often than not we work night and day, seven days a week. In a campaign you never have enough time and you’re always
working against the clock.

I understand the perception of insider politics is often glamorized. The real work, however, isn’t done in smoke- filled rooms rubbing elbows with the political elite. Campaigns are hard work, but you wake up every day knowing you can make a difference by working tirelessly for something in which you believe.

While the long hours can be exhausting, the work you do is incredibly rewarding. Some of my favorite moments have been attending Tribal Council meetings on Native American Reservations in an effort to understand the day-to-day issues; waking up at 3 a.m. on any given elec- tion day and putting up signs around polling sites to ensure the candidate has the best visibility; being involved in the production of the political advertisements, whether it be speaking, appearing, or editing; attempting to intimidate an incumbent U.S. Senator while dressed as Dorothy from the Wizard of OZ; leading conference calls with then Senator and now President Barack Obama, and becoming friends with members of his family; and the countless fundraisers, local parades, barbecues, and political party meetings. Of course, there isn’t a day that I don’t also have to take out the trash, literally.

Political campaigns don’t come with as defined job descriptions as you may find elsewhere. As a result you get to try almost all aspects of a campaign: press and media relations, voter contact and volunteer recruit- ment, scheduling the candidate and staff appearances, organizing events, and my particular niche of fundrais- ing. Once your area of campaigning is realized and your skills honed it is easy and fast to rise up the ranks and join the army of campaign professionals who crisscross the country every year to work on the next big race.

My first paid campaign position was as a volunteer coordinator for a gubernatorial campaign in Virginia. I spent my days making phone calls to anyone who would take the time to listen to my pitch, oftentimes ending up in hearing only a loud slam of the phone. It’s never easy going at first, but if it’s a career you’re interested in, just stick with it. Although it’s only been a few short years, I now work with top tier candidates as a consultant and oftentimes have to turn down work.

I can’t say political campaigning is a career meant for everyone. In fact, I’d say it is the career for the few. The long tedious days of crunching voter and donor numbers far outnumber those spent rubbing elbows with the political elite. But in the end, on the day after the election, after you have caught up on some much needed sleep, you realize it was worth it because you know you fought your heart out for something in which you so strongly believe.

Brittany Ross received her B.A. in government, and B.S. in communications, in 2004. She was an Archer Center fellow in 2003, and has worked in electoral politics for more than five years for a variety of candidates, including U.S. Senator Kay Hagan, Congresswoman Mazie Hirono, and President Barack Obama. She currently holds the position of finance director working to elect the first female governor of Tennessee.