Jeff Smith: Do As I Say — A Political Advice Column

Jeff SmithQ. I work for a New York state assemblyman who has consistent turnover of attractive female staffers in the office. I recently heard that one reason behind the turnover is that he has slept with more than one of them. At least he’s not married, I guess. Even though it’s not exactly ideal, do you think it is problematic enough that I should leave, or does it sort of come with the territory in politics?
—No name or initials, obviously, New York City 

Is this kind of thing more pervasive in politics than elsewhere? Perhaps; as Kissinger said, “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.” But that doesn’t make it right. If he’s slept with multiple members of his staff who have then quit or been fired, then yes, this is problematic enough for you to leave.

Do people in supervisory positions occasionally fall in love with subordinates? Sure, and yes, it can be complicated. But if it’s happened multiple times and caused “consistent” turnover (your words), then it’s not a fairy tale connection between principal and aide. It’s a pattern, and one with which you should avoid any association, because politicians (or bosses in any field) whose offices have patterns remotely like this don’t typically have bright futures (see: Filner, Bob).

Q. I work in a charter school in New York City and believe in the mutually beneficial relationship between a public school and its community, though in the charter world that’s hard: We are often treated as outsiders and insurgents. Relatedly, I am very concerned with what happened in the mayoral campaign around charter schools. Eva Moskowitz of Success Academy, with a few other schools, held a rally and march across the Brooklyn Bridge. It was obvious from the media coverage and the way it was discussed internally that the intent was to warn one of the mayoral candidates that opposition to charter schools would be dangerous. My concern, shared by many of my colleagues, is whether such a protest is unethical—or even worse. The organizers seem to have made a point to keep the rally from [using] obvious campaign rhetoric, but it seems that a rally about an issue that has been a source of debate in the campaign, held during a general election period, is inescapably political in the way that bars public schools from participating. The twist, perhaps, is that charter employees are not government employees, unlike district schools’ staff. Our schools’ budgets rely on public funds, yet the workforce is made up of private individuals. The call to action was done during work time; thus, while we were being paid with public dollars, flyers sent home to parents were printed on a copier paid for with tax dollars. I’m curious what you think about both the legality and the ethics of such an action. 
—Concerned, New York CityThe narrow legal question is whether the protest organizers acted inappropriately. By using taxpayer resources to engage in political activity during work hours, the answer appears to be yes. (I am not a lawyer, and—for the uninitiated—I violated election law myself a decade ago.)

The broader question relates to this assertion: “[A] rally about an issue that has been a source of debate in the campaign, held during a general election period, is inescapably political in the way that bars public schools from participating.”

I completely disagree. Even if charter school employees were government employees, lots of public employees have interests that are “inescapably political” around which they organize during election season. Have you ever heard of AFGE (a union of federal government workers) or AFSCME (state and local government employees)? Their members don’t take vacations from political organizing because it’s election season. Quite to the contrary, election season finds them at their most active; elections focus the attention of voters, journalists and candidates, so timely activism is savvy. No one—unless their job specifically requires them to refrain from partisan political activity—should be precluded from participating in political activity during election time or any other time. And charter schools in particular—whose very existence hinges upon state law and local regulation—may find employee (and family) mobilization critical to their survival.

Jeff Smith: Do As I Say, A Political Advice Column

Jeff SmithQ: I just started working full-time on my first political campaign, and I have noticed that many of our decisions are guided by polling and not by a firm belief one way or the other. It has been disheartening to see how someone I believed would be a strong leader is so easily swayed by the polls and is apparently only concerned with getting elected. Am I working for the wrong candidate, or is this what I signed up for? 
—L.D., St. Louis

The way I interpret your question, I don’t think that’s what you signed up for. But let me explain.

Nearly every candidate worth her salt—at the state legislative level and higher in most states, at this point— uses polls. But good leaders don’t use polls to figure out their positions on issues. They use polls to figure out which of their issue positions they should highlight and which they should downplay. They use polls to figure out how to talk about the issue positions they want to highlight. And they use polls to figure out which attacks merit a response. That’s being poll-savvy, which is smart—not poll-driven, which can be pathetic.

So think about whether your candidate is poll-savvy or poll-driven. And even if he is the latter, ask yourself: Is it awful for a candidate to poll voters before taking a position on an issue or issues? Is that not in some respects what representative democracy is about? Taken to an extreme, obviously, it’s troubling—no one wants to vote for a weather vane. But if a candidate doesn’t have an established position or strong feelings on an issue, I don’t see a problem with taking the pulse of the electorate before deciding.

So is this what you signed up for? No. But I think that may be more about you than it is about him.

Q: Are you following the race for New York City Council Speaker? Seems like any one of a number of people could win. When it gets down to brass tacks, how do legislators make up their minds on leadership votes? Do they vote based on the candidates’ ideology, race, gender, geographic roots or intangible leadership qualities? 
—A.M., New York CityNone of the above. In my experience, legislators’ votes in leadership races are almost always about one thing: themselves. Now, I know this sounds counterintuitive, but hear me out.

Suppose you are the Economic Development Committee vice chair and you want to chair the committee. The current chair, whom you despise and often quietly disagree with, is running for Speaker against another member whom you like and generally agree with, and you expect the vote will be close. You will probably vote for the person you despise, because—unless power in that particular legislative body is completely centralized— the chance to chair Eco Devo is probably more alluring to you than the chance to have someone as Speaker whom you like. If power in the chamber is absolutely centralized, and if you totally trust the candidate you like to depose the current chair if she wins (a rare move in most chambers), and if you trust her to appoint you as the new chair, and if you then trust her to give you some power as chair, then you may want to vote for the person you like. As you can see, there are a lot of ifs there.

To take a somewhat simpler example, if you are a freshman Council member who first and foremost aspires to be Speaker, and one of your closest allies, also a first-term member, is running for Speaker against a second-term member whom you dislike, you’ll probably vote against your ally, because if she is elected Speaker and consolidates power, you will likely be termed out before there is another open seat race for Speaker, since you wouldn’t challenge an ally who is the sitting Speaker.

These two examples serve to make a broader point: Leadership votes are usually as much if not more about the ambitions of rank-and-file members than they are about the qualities of the aspirants.

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Jeff Smith: Do As I Say, A Political Advice Column

Jeff Smith: Do As I Say — A Political Advice Column

Jeff SmithQ: Here’s my problem: I’m secretly dating someone who works on an opposing campaign. I know what you’re thinking: This is like something out of a movie, or like James Carville and Mary Matalin. But we’re just two people who really like each other and don’t want to let the campaign get in the way of a blossoming relationship. Is this too scandalous? Should we take a break, or do you think we can survive it?
—Juliet (obviously not my real name!)

Yes, “Juliet,” something about your question suggested that might not be your real name, though I appreciate the clarification. As for you and your star-crossed lover, your situation does sound a bit like a movie—the dreadful 1992 Michael Keaton vehicle Speechless.

Forgive my tone, Juliet, but, really, chill. By today’s standards, what you’re doing isn’t very scandalous, unless of course you’re leaking poll numbers and television ad scripts. In fact, someone else on your campaign is probably hooking up with someone on an opposing campaign as well. Politics is a small and horny world. So go ahead and date—quietly for now if you prefer, but openly if you like. Assuming that your boyfriend on the other campaign isn’t a 15 year-old intern, I’d suggest that this cycle’s candidates have rendered your love life rather quaint.

Q: Did you see the Washington Post article about the longtime Hillary Clinton aide getting mixed up in shenanigans during the 2008 campaign where she appears to have coordinated a so-called independent expenditure on behalf of the campaign? It reminds me of what you got in trouble for. What’s the difference, and what do you think will happen to her?
—M.E, Washington, D.C.

Well, one big difference is about $600,000 (the expenditure in question was nearly $609,000, whereas the expenditure during my 2004 race was approximately $10,000). A second difference is that—at least according to the Post article—the Clinton aide in question, unfortunately, allegedly put some things in writing, unlike my campaign aides who met with an outside consultant. But the biggest apparent difference is that none of her closest friends wore a wire and got her to talk, so it may be possible for her to explain away alleged emails that strongly suggest illegal coordination but leave some ambiguity. “I was merely providing Sen. Clinton’s campaign schedule for an old associate who wanted to invite friends to some events,” she might say; or “I provided information about our field operations to an associate who said he knew some willing campaign helpers, but I had no idea he was planning any sort of independent expenditure.” I should stress that I’m not accusing anyone of a crime here but speculating about possible defenses. Given the woman’s status as a longtime Clinton aide and the high stakes as Hillary contemplates 2016, I’d expect she’s receiving top-flight legal advice. The outcome is difficult to predict without seeing the actual emails, but it will sure be interesting to watch it unfold.

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Jeff Smith: Do As I Say — A Political Advice Column

Jeff Smith: Do As I Say – A Political Advice Column

Jeff SmithQ: What should you do if you work for a candidate or elected official who doesn’t turn out to be quite who you thought they’d be? I’m not talking about any kind of scandalous behavior but about pols who wind up not being as dedicated to the policies they preach, or candidates who try to present a reformer image but are in fact willing to take money from the “wrong” sorts of people. Should you stay to build up your résumé— and your connections? Or should you try to be true to what you really believe? —D.N., New York City

Great question. The answer depends on why you decided to work for the politican in the first place. If you are an idealist who was inspired by the candidate when you first met him/her and thus decided to apply for a job, then I think you should probably leave, since the work appears to be a disheartening, compromising experience. If, on the other hand, you took the job because you saw it as a good way to get where you want to be, then you should probably stay, so long as the job continues to serve that purpose.

No candidate is as wonderful as his staunchest supporters imagine or as awful as his fiercest opponents allege. Paul Wellstone, the first politician I ever “fell for,” voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 as he faced a tough re-election battle. While I understood the political context, his vote disappointed me. (He later apologized and said he regretted the vote.) Conversely, John Ashcroft, whom I reviled as a U.S. senator and attorney general, ultimately made a very courageous decision, standing up to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and Chief of Staff Andrew Card regarding a domestic surveillance decision as he lay on what he thought was his deathbed. I try to keep these examples in mind before falling too hard for—or harshly condemning—any politician.

Q: So, dude, I’m a former high school teacher and I keep getting Facebook friended by girls I taught who have become WAY hot. So here’s the thing: I’m hoping to run for office next year and my question is, is it okay for me to message them to ask for help with my campaign, or will it totally creep them out? —Hot for Student, Somewhere in the Midwest

So, dude, maybe you haven’t been keeping up with the news, but have you heard of this guy named Anthony Weiner? Yeah, because you make him sound classy.

Regarding messaging them: As your FB friends, they will be able to see all of your updates once you announce your campaign, and will be able to decide on their own if they would like to volunteer. But if you’d like to reach out to them to make an individual ask—which is always more effective than a mass update—I’d suggest you do so via a campaign manager or volunteer coordinator. I actually didn’t follow the advice I’m giving—I reached out to many former students personally for campaign help—but I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say I wasn’t as creepy as you.

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Jeff Smith: Do As I Say – A Political Advice Column

Jeff Smith: Do As I Say — A Political Advice Column

Jeff SmithQ. I work as a body man for an elected official who recently told me that I am in his “circle of trust,” which was, he said, why he decided to place me in such a sensitive job. A few days later he directed me to call the scheduler to cancel a midday appearance, and instead had me drive him to an apartment building. He disappeared for an hour and then came back. The next week he did it again. Yesterday he asked me to do it for a third time despite the fact that he would be missing a big event we’d discussed in staff meetings. Before calling HQ, I said, “Yes, sir, but isn’t this a pretty important event?” He replied, “Last time I checked, you were my driver, not my campaign manager.” So far we’ve been able to reschedule some things, but the point is, I am feeling pretty uncomfortable, especially since he is married. What is your advice?
—No name, no location, please

This is a tough predicament, and I’m sorry you’re dealing with it. You have three choices, as I see it.

  1. Explain to the campaign manager what is happening, without any editorializing or speculation. It may be that he/she is already aware of the issue, but you could probably shed some more light.
  2. Tell the principal you are concerned about his behavior. Don’t accuse him of infidelity, but say that people on staff are starting to ask questions about the frequent cancellations and suggest that they should stop.
  3. Quit.

According to Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s Game Change, John Edwards’ body guy tried Option #2, but when that didn’t change Edwards’ behavior, went to Option #1, which resulted in something like Option #3: He was summarily fired by an angry Edwards, who accused him of tattling.

Really, the point here isn’t that he’s cheating on his wife (although that’s troubling and could hurt the campaign); the point is that he’s cheating on the campaign. What he does in his personal life is no one’s business, but wasting a staffer’s time and using campaign time to get off when he should be getting votes or money? That’s unforgivable.

My overall thought: This won’t end well. With his “last time I checked” comment, the principal indicated his probable reaction if confronted, so that approach is unlikely to work. Going to the campaign manager might change the principal’s behavior but may cost you your job—at least your job as body guy—and your chances for upward mobility in this organization. So unless you are absolutely convinced that the principal is going to change the world as a public servant and that outweighs your discomfort, I’d suggest you start looking for other gigs. If you do decide to address the issue directly with the principal before making a final decision to quit, remember that doing so could make it impossible to use him (or other staff ) as a reference.

Q. I worked for a congressman who had a rule not to eat at events so he could talk and shake hands. Not wanting to be rude, he made me grab a plate in his place. So at every event I had a plate of food that I enthusiastically praised and enjoyed. After four events per day not only was I full but I was getting incredibly fat. How did you balance your campaign and your eating habits?
—C.W., Silver Spring, Md.

I may not be the best person to ask here: When my congressional campaign ended, I weighed 107 lbs. (at 5’6’’). But yes, you gotta eat something at events, especially in ethnic communities. The symbolism is powerful. However, that doesn’t mean you have to eat an entire plate. Remember when you were 5 and you tried to spread veggies across your plate to make it look as if you ate more than you actually did? If you are adroit on the front end, you can look as if you are helping yourself to a healthy portion. And no one ever said you couldn’t discreetly deposit your plate on a table before leaving. Just don’t throw it out—someone might see that. Also, work out. Given the stress and terrible food of campaigns, campaign aides should work out daily both for your physical and mental health, even if it’s just push-ups or pull-ups at lunch.

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Jeff Smith: Do As I Say — A Political Advice Column

Jeff Smith: Do As I Say — A Political Advice Column

Jeff SmithQ: I recently listened to your interview on NPR and applaud you for your comeback after spending time in a federal institution. I was on my way back to academia when I was arrested while being a practicing psychologist for two counts of fraud. I got 21 months. I have no criminal record prior to this and am very concerned about my future beyond incarceration. Any thoughts? Right now I am still in the numb/ embarrassment stage. 
—R.V., A City in Calif.

I actually have a chapter in a new book about recovering from crisis. I think the key is to repair and reinvent yourself in a way that stays true to the best of who you are. For instance, if you lose your professional license, could you still offer counseling at a halfway house after you complete your sentence? Or perhaps at a shelter for the homeless or victims of domestic violence?Something that will be therapeutic for you and helpful for others. For me that’s taken many forms, from teaching about the legislative process and addressing elected officials about ethical dilemmas to advocating for educational opportunities inside prison.

I won’t lie to you: Prison sucks. But it forced me to pause and reflect and thus gave me an advantage over the Sanfords and Weiners on the road to recovery. It can do that for you, but you must constantly remind yourself that failure is not falling down but staying down.

(And if you’re interested in the book, co-authored by a dozen elected officials who each faced crises and came back strong, it’s called The Recovering Politician’s Twelve Step Program to Survive Crisis, and it’s available on Amazon.)

Q: I want to run campaigns, but getting a job as a manager is quite difficult. Candidates have two main problems: They often seem to think that they do not need to be managed, and when they do, they do not want to spend money for a salary. Of course, it is full-time work that is simply too much to ask of a volunteer. I have spent a lot of time on campaigns in general, and last year in particular. Consequently, I have taken the position that I will not do any more free work for politicians—I’ve seen that it usually does not pay off. I do not like sitting on the sidelines. Do you have any ideas?
—C.B., New York CityI totally agree with the paradox you reference regarding candidates and campaign managers. As I’ve said before, candidates who try to run their own campaigns have a fool for a manager.

I think you should broaden your search and consider working for an issue campaign instead. There are lots of benefits to that; for instance: (1) no lying awake at night wondering if your candidate will make a campaign-ending faux pas; (2) no screaming candidate calling your cell at 2 a.m. to berate you about a typo in an email you did not write; (3) no frantic middle-of-the-night calls to bail the candidate’s son out of jail.

Most important, when you work for an issue campaign, you don’t have to worry if the candidate will actually follow through on the campaign pledge that motivated you to work on his behalf, because an issue never lies. And you don’t have to worry that your candidate’s efforts to follow through will be scuttled by her evil colleagues in the legislature, or wherever. So if you win an issue campaign, you really do win.

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Jeff Smith: Do As I Say — A Political Advice Column

Jeff Smith: Do As I Say — A Political Advice Column

Jeff SmithQ: If you were Anthony Weiner, would you run for mayor?
—L.G., Brooklyn

Full disclosure: Not being a native, I’m just learning New York City politics.

I always find irony—and sometimes tragedy—in the stories of disgraced pols who rush for immediate reinvention in the same ego-nurturing and soul-crushing arena that initially got them in trouble. It’s as if the Weiners and Sanfords of the world have determined that the artificial politico personas they have so painstakingly created are the only versions of themselves that they can still recognize. But true redemption requires you to hit the pause button, to sublimate ambition and reflect on what truly matters.

That said, if I were Weiner and felt that I’d done the necessary reparative work in my personal life, I’d run for either comptroller or public advocate. Though comptroller candidate Scott Stringer is familiar to Manhattanites, no one in either race has high citywide name ID, so both would be easier races and would be outside the blinding glare of a mayoral campaign. Of course, Weiner would still get more press than just about any candidate in the country, except perhaps the two who make the mayoral runoff.

In a nutshell, if he loses his next race, he’s done. So if he wants a career in public life, he should pick a race without a well-known front-runner like Christine Quinn. Then he can get time in a low-profile office where he could rehabilitate and position himself for a mayoral race in which his chances are better. Given his skills at self-promotion, this would seem reasonable. But right now just seems too soon to go for the Big Enchilada.

Q: I’d like to run for office in the next decade, but I’m a Democrat in a Republican-leaning area. I could move a few towns over and run as a Democrat, or I could switch parties and stay where I am. What would you advise?
—K.G., Location fluid!

You might also have noted in your signature that your principles are fluid.

I understand party affiliation can be easily shed—hell, look at Mayor Bloomberg. And I’m not averse to the concept; I helped an old friend switch parties years ago, and he may end up becoming Missouri’s next governor. But you seem a bit too malleable—willing to move, willing to switch parties, whatever it takes.

Ideally, a candidate needs a strong set of principles and a deep commitment to his community. Often candidates have one or the other. You appear to be lacking both, which is troubling.

It’s one thing to be a hungry candidate. It’s another thing to be starving. If I were you, I’d try to nail down exactly why you’re a Democrat, and then do some civic work in your community. Then write me again in a few years and I’ll be glad to help.

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Jeff Smith: Do As I Say — A Political Advice Column

Jeff Smith: Do As I Say — A Political Advice Column

Jeff SmithQ: I’m considering running for office in 2014, but here is my dilemma: I am not sure I want to put myself out there. My father and grandfather were both elected officials, and my father has encouraged me to run. I think I could win based largely on name ID, but having to knock on doors just is not my cup of tea. Do you think I could win without doing that?
Definitely no initials or location!

A few thoughts.

First, you have to f—ing want it. If you don’t want it, voters sense it. And you’ll probably lose.

That said, knowing nothing about what office you’d run for or who your opponent(s) might be, or how hard you’d work (or they’d work), yes, I think you could win. I’m sure you’ve considered this, but your family probably has residual name recognition and, especially if your father or grandfather is alive, they likely retain fundraising connections that could benefit you. As a general rule I abhor dynasty candidates since so few compare to their parents (with some notable exceptions, such as Jeb Bush or the impressive Udall brothers), but the fact is that most Americans vote like they shop, and when given the choice between 7-Up and Super-Up, they usually buy 7-Up.

Second, if you dread knocking on doors, you probably shouldn’t get into politics. It is, of course, a people business, and if you don’t like people, you’re going to be pretty miserable most of the time. New York Times Magazine writer Matt Bai once profiled someone who reminds me of you, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, whose father, John, was a legendary U.S. senator. During Linc’s first campaign, for delegate to the state’s constitutional convention, he went to his home turf to knock on doors. According to Bai, “He sat there for 20 minutes, holding a stack of palm cards with his picture on them, trying to work up the courage to get out of the car.”

Now, he’s turned into a pretty successful pol, first reaching the U.S. Senate and, after a 2006 loss, recovering to win an unusual independent bid for governor four years later. Still, if you’ll read the profile, you’ll see that he doesn’t actually appear to enjoy the lifestyle—and these days, his numbers are in the tank. So, before doing it to please your family, take a hard look at what you’re getting into. I usually found it amusing when people slammed doors in my face. If you’re more sensitive, you’re gonna struggle, at least at first. And remember—some introverted dynasty candidates (think Al Gore) seem much happier now that they’re out of the game.

Q: Hey, Jeff, definitely not complaining, but why have you been writing about sex so much lately?

Because I’m married, and my wife is pregnant.

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Jeff Smith: Do As I Say — A Political Advice Column

Jeff Smith: Do As I Say — A Political Advice Column

Jeff SmithQ: In House of Cards, Congressman Russo is having sex with his aide, while House Majority Whip Underwood is having sex with a journalist. Which happens more often?
A.S., New York City

Great question—it actually inspired me to write a separate column on the fact and the fiction behind House of Cards.

The answer is, definitely the former. During my time in the Missouri Senate, I never knew of a legislator sleeping with a journalist, but there was a lot of sex with legislative aides—though it generally happened with other people’s aides, not one’s own. Something about working with someone 16 hours a day makes them decidedly less sexy. I even knew of one legislator who slept with a constituent who visited his office to lobby for special needs children (though it happened after several meetings). They are now quite happily married.

Q: Our campaign is preparing to hire a bunch of summer interns to canvass this summer. I saw in the documentary about your race that you had this awesome group of interns who worked their hearts out for you. How did you find them? Did you have to weed a lot out?
J.L., New York City

Well, I was lucky. As a college prof I was blessed to be in contact with a lot of young people who were into politics. And as I used to joke, it’s amazing how much you can motivate students to engage with passionate teaching…and a little extra credit.

But the key was the weeding out process. During my 2004 campaign for Congress, I implored anyone who expressed a scintilla of interest to become an intern. Most did, and about a quarter of them ended up not working out.

In my 2006 campaign, based on the twin notions that the desperate guy at the bar goes home alone and the girl who plays hard to get usually attracts many suitors, I decided to do things differently. When a student inquired about volunteering, I’d give her my email address and tell her to contact me in the next 48 hours to learn more about the application process. If she did that, I’d ask her to send her résumé to my campaign manager in the next 48 hours. If she did that and her résumé wasn’t terrible, my manager would tell her we still had one to two internships available and ask for a time she could come in to interview in the next 72 hours. If that went smoothly, my manager would ask for three references he could call within the next 48 hours. But by that point, we barely even needed to call them (though we did), because we could tell that the student was responsible, aggressive and committed to the cause. We didn’t lose a single intern that campaign.

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Jeff Smith: Do As I Say — A Political Advice Column

Jeff Smith: Do As I Say — A Political Advice Column

Q: How do I prevent this total douche bag I hate, who I worked with on a campaign, from getting a sweet political appointment?
I.H., Washington, D.C.

First, I will try to answer your question. Years ago there was a guy in Missouri who was the leading candidate to run the state Democratic Party. He was an unadulterated piece of sh–. Consequently, along with a few others who had worked with him, I decided to sh–can him. But then I realized that the powerful Carnahan family, who disliked me after my campaign against family scion Russ, would influence the selection. So I “let slip” to a close ally of the Carnahans that I strongly supported the candidate, because I suspected he’d go back and tell the Carnahans that the candidate was a “Jeff Smith guy.” A week later we found out that the guy’s candidacy had been scuttled.

And second, I will quote Nelson Mandela, who said, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping that it kills your enemies.” In other words, let it go. If he’s really that big of a douche bag, people will soon catch on. Since it’s Washington, I guess that means he’ll soon be someone’s chief of staff.

Jeff SmithQ: I’ve worked in politics for about five years. And I’m doing fine—progressively more responsibility in each position, yada yada—but given that I have a law degree, I haven’t really gotten where I want to be. I want to work on a ’16 presidential campaign in a senior position. What would you suggest I do in the next two years to help make that happen?
C.J., Washington, D.C.

Two-part answer here. The first is simple: Raise money, and raise it big and early. Few do it, and if you’re young and do it well, you can write your ticket. It’s the best way to stand out and distinguish yourself early in the party and to the campaign. If your candidate loses in the primary, you’re sought after by the nominee, which can’t be said of most campaign staff. They’re usually left out in the cold.

The second is a different approach: Learn how to do something important that only a few people in politics understand. Two possible areas come to mind where candidates are going to want people with cutting-edge expertise. The first is hardcore quantitative analysis similar to that which powered the Obama re-election campaign. The second is knowledge about state delegate laws, which helped Obama make a series of savvy (and rather counterintuitive) targeting decisions in 2008, allocating resources to small states, some of which held caucuses which advantaged Obama’s zealous supporters. Since the media is currently focused on the former area, I’d probably choose the latter, and get to work memorizing the complex patchwork of state delegate selection laws.

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Jeff Smith: Do As I Say — A Political Advice Column

The Award-Winning Documentary about Jeff’s Early Career (2006):

The Recent New Republic Article About Jeff (2011):

Jeff’s Links: