By Emily Cahn, BA ’11
By car and bus and plane, propped up by road food and coffee—and, in some places, good ol’ milk—they ply a path to far-flung patches of the country: opposing armies shaking people’s hands near amber waves of grain, tweeting over the purple mountain majesties and sticking campaign signs along the fruited plains.
The presidential candidates themselves and maybe a few top titles—campaign manager, press secretary—are familiar enough for casual conversation, but the quadrennial swarms of campaigners are dozens or even hundreds of people deep. There are schedulers and policy advisers, social media managers, “advance” teams and get-out-the-vote organizers. There are people who watch for opponents’ gaffes and others who respond to mail. There are planners and servers and engineers who will be pulling off each party’s pageant this summer.
Orbiting all the fuss is the band of reporters and photographers and camera operators who document the circuitous march that, for someone, will end at the White House.
Altogether, they are legion and unseen, or unheard of anyway, by most Americans. Here, we introduce you to some of the jobs, and the people behind them, that drive a presidential campaign forward.
What It’s Like ... to be on the floor of a national convention
Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), BA ’81, who has attended every Democratic National Convention since 1996
[My first convention] reminded me of the first time I walked into Shea Stadium for a real live baseball game. I was 4 years old and I was sort of struck by how bright the lights were, how noisy the crowd was and how energizing the entire scene was. When I walked onto the floor of my first convention, I had a flashback to Shea Stadium. Luckily, we had a better outcome coming out of the convention than the Mets did for their early history...
I spoke at the convention [in 2012] as chair of the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee]. ... My assumption was that I’d walk into a packed hall with tens of thousands of people sitting at the edge of their seats ready to devour every word, and beyond that, that there’d be a national primetime audience glued to their seats waiting to hear what Chairman Israel had to say. First, I may have been chairman of the DCCC, but they still slotted me into a speaking opportunity that probably vied with the Home Shopping Network for the most viewers. Second, given the opportunity of hearing the chairman of the DCCC speak or going souvenir shopping, 80 percent of the delegates chose souvenir shopping. So it was sort of like addressing the House of Representatives—lots of empty seats. Still, it was an amazing experience. … My favorite moment of all the conventions I went to was Bill Clinton’s speech in 2012, when he actually went off teleprompter and engaged in one of the most dramatic and passionate conversations about the Affordable Care Act that I had ever heard. And it was off the top of his head. It was absolutely mesmerizing. There were moments of the conventions that were raucous and loud, and [others that were] distracted, where you could hear a pin drop. That was one of those moments.
What It’s Like ... to moderate a presidential debate
CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash, BA ’93, who has served as a questioner for six primary debates in this election cycle
[Debate prep] is similar to cramming for a final, it is very intense. [You’re] sitting in a room with some of the smartest and most creative people preparing for anything. We have tremendous research teams, and they put together information about the many topics that we’re thinking of focusing on. After we settle for the most part on the topics, we focus in on the wording of the questions and the order, and you get down to the nitty gritty, and that kind of preparation is important to ensure you’re as ready as possible. The most important part of the debate prep for us were the mock debates. We would sit there for hours and go through things over and over again. We have people playing the roles of the candidates, and that helps more than you would think. We do it to figure out whether a question isn’t working, or we need to sharpen this or we need to move this around. That particular preparation was helpful at the Democratic presidential primary debate in Brooklyn, N.Y. It is our job to ask tough questions that make the candidates accountable. I felt like we equally stayed on both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to ensure they answered our questions comprehensively.
This election has been unique, and every day has proven to be more exciting. This is my seventh presidential election cycle at CNN, and I have never seen anything quite like this. It is an honor to serve as a debate questioner, and it is something I take very seriously. I always feel a sense of responsibility and pressure to get the answers for our CNN viewers.
Profile: Gabriella Demczuk, BA ’13
Freelance photographer for The New York Times
As a stringer for The New York Times, Ms. Demczuk spent weeks in Iowa capturing images of the nearly two dozen candidates who hoped to be president—a job that required constant contortions, laying on the floor and hustling around rooms to find the best angles. Her favorite photo from her time in the Hawkeye State came in the final days before the caucus, at a rally for Hillary Clinton in Iowa City, where Ms. Clinton had just hosted an event with singer Demi Lovato. The candidate “was working the ropeline and was just taking so many selfies, and it was really interesting because, instead of signing autographs, she would just take selfies,” Ms. Demczuk says. “I’ve never seen someone take so many selfies with people.” From a terrace above she “had a bird’s-eye view of her, and just seeing her with this massive amount of people trying to get into the photo, it was a very funny scene.”
Capturing moments like that, some of which have appeared on the front page of The Times, is one of the best parts of the job, she says.
“When you see someone reading The Times and your photo is there on the front page, it’s such a great feeling,” Ms. Demczuk says. “It’s also a very different feeling than having your photo on the homepage. In the newspaper, it feels more real, more permanent.”
Profile: Tim Miller, BA ’04
Communications director for Jeb Bush
Tim Miller nearly missed his interview with Jeb Bush in Tallahassee, Fla., in early 2015, when the former Sunshine State governor was assembling his presidential campaign team.
“Tallahassee is not particularly great on the transportation front. I could not find an Uber … so I called a cab company, and they told me it would be an hour. Then, a cab pulled over and asked if I was David. I said yes and got in the cab.
“I feel bad for David,” he says, “but I needed to get there.”
Mr. Miller made the interview and went on to serve as communications director from February 2015 until Mr. Bush dropped out of the race after the South Carolina primary. Over the course of the year, Mr. Miller oversaw the campaign’s media outreach, managed the campaign’s speechwriters and aided Mr. Bush with speech prep as well as traveling the country with the candidate.
“It’s all-consuming, and that’s why you do it,” says Mr. Miller, who earlier helped co-found America Rising, a top GOP opposition research firm.
Since Mr. Bush dropped out, Mr. Miller has been a vocal member of the “Never Trump” campaign and says he’s taking time to assess his next step.
“As a professional doing campaigns, you always get attached to candidates,” he says. “But I don’t know that I’ve ever felt as emotionally invested in a campaign—both for Jeb and against Trump—as I have before now. So I would like to get a little distance from that before I decide what to do next. In the meantime, I’ll be the last soldier fighting the war on the ‘Never Trump’ battle.”
Profile: Joe Pounder, BA ’05
Senior adviser for rapid response to Marco Rubio
Joe Pounder has watched a lot of TV recently.
As a senior adviser to Marco Rubio’s rapid response operation, Mr. Pounder had to be aware of what his candidate’s 16 GOP primary opponents were saying on the trail—and be ready to act on comments that could either damage or boost Mr. Rubio’s campaign.
“I was constantly watching TV and social media,” says Mr. Pounder, who joined the campaign in November 2015 and stayed until the candidate dropped out of the race in March. “This cycle, there was a real proliferation of the amount of town halls, on-air prime-time interviews and so forth, so you always had to be on. And for all the debates, you could easily leave the office at 1 a.m. and be back at the office by 7:15.”
Since Mr. Rubio exited the race, Mr. Pounder went back to his job as president of America Rising, the Republican opposition research firm founded by fellow alumni Tim Miller, BA ’04, and Matt Rhoades, MA ’99, who was the campaign manager for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential bid and the communications director for his 2008 campaign.
But, Mr. Pounder says, it’s likely he’ll be called back to the campaign trail in the future. “Nothing beats the adrenaline rush of a good day on a presidential campaign,” he says.
What It’s Like ... to work for a campaign in Iowa
Lorraine Voles, BA ’81, who had a role in every presidential election cycle from 1984 to 2008; in 2009, she became GW’s vice president for external relations
I went out to Iowa not really knowing anything. It was for the general election, for [Walter] Mondale and [Geraldine] Ferraro.
I had been trying desperately to get a political job and wasn’t having any success, and a friend of mine called me and said, ‘Do you want to go out to Iowa and be a press secretary?’ I had never even been inside a campaign office, but I was like, ‘Sure!’ I kind of knew what a press secretary was. ... So I go to the campaign office, and I’m so nervous because I’m thinking, ‘How long before these people realize I don’t know what the heck I’m doing?’ But they were very nice. Most were from Iowa or Minnesota, and they took me to lunch so I could meet the other senior people. It was the first time in my life I saw adults drink milk.
I worked for a wonderful team and I just learned. The next cycle, I got calls from the campaigns about being the Iowa press secretary during the caucus, which was a much bigger deal. I wasn’t sure who I wanted to work for, but I talked to someone and, knowing my politics, he said, ‘You should go work for the most progressive candidate who has funding.’ So that’s what I did. And I went to work for Gary Hart—from May 1 to May 7 in 1987, because he dropped out of the race. I had quit my job, I had sublet my apartment and my trunk hadn’t even arrived. (In those days, I shipped a trunk of stuff.) I didn’t know what I was going to do. It’s like a grieving process you go through, because everything you expected abruptly ends ... I was planning to be in Iowa for 18 months. As a staffer, you start talking to the other campaigns, and a lot of us decided to go to the [Michael] Dukakis campaign.
From 1984 to 2008, I had worked in big and small ways in every presidential campaign, but there was nothing like that first Iowa caucus. You learn so much about politics. And in those days before cell phones, you had to make decisions yourself; you didn’t have to check in with six or seven people. If you screwed it up, you owned it. But you got to make decisions, and it was just a terrific experience.
Profile: Erin Biggs, BA ’03
Colorado delegate to the Democratic National Convention
If you’re friends with Erin Biggs, you’ve likely heard a fundraising appeal or two for her trip to Philadelphia in July, where, as a delegate, she was slated to cast a vote for Sen. Bernie Sanders on the floor of the Democratic National Convention.
The party doesn’t pay for delegates’ travel or lodging, so Ms. Biggs launched a fundraising campaign for her trip—hosting yard sales, selling baked goods and soliciting contributions via an online fundraising site—to raise the $5,000 she’d need.
All this, of course, is after she successfully campaigned for the spot—a sort of micro election within the big one. She sent campaign literature to prospective voters, created a Facebook page to lobby for her bid and spoke with hundreds of people who showed up to her congressional district convention, where she ultimately was elected among four delegates from her district for Mr. Sanders.
“In the beginning, I was curious about how someone becomes a delegate. I never knew it was an actual campaign,” Ms. Biggs says. “... I never necessarily expected to be an elected official myself. But it just kind of happened, and it has really solidified my belief that politics and our political process is so important.”
Profile: Hector Sigala, BA ’12
Digital media director for Bernie Sanders
Hector Sigala’s political career began at the moment his college one was ending.
“On the day of graduation, I was walking down the aisle and I got a call from [Sen. Bernie Sanders’] office asking if I wanted to interview for a staff position,” Mr. Sigala says. “I interviewed and got it and have been working for Bernie ever since.”
Mr. Sigala was a systems administrator in Mr. Sanders’ Senate office and switched over to the presidential campaign as digital media director the week the Vermont independent launched his bid last spring. He’s been helping to run Mr. Sanders’ digital strategy ever since, including updating the campaign website, manning the social media accounts and producing Web videos that helped power the campaign through the primaries, and then some.
The campaign became such a big part of Mr. Sigala’s life that he even enlisted Mr. Sanders’ help in proposing to his now fiancée, Kimberly Riofrio, who also “is a big Bernie supporter.”
“I figured this was a pretty cool way to make this special,” he says. Mr. Sigala recorded the candidate giving what appeared to be a stump speech, until he stopped to say, “Oh, wait a second. Hey Rio, Hector has a question for you. He’s a good guy, why don’t you help him out?” Mr. Sigala played the video for Ms. Riofrio while they were at the Chesapeake Bay. “I pulled out the video and I was like, ‘Bernie wants me to put this out, what do you think?’” he says. “She’s used to me working anywhere and everywhere and asking her feedback for posts. But by the time she looked up and knew what was going on, she didn’t really say ‘yes,’ she just started crying and hugged me for two minutes.”
Despite Mr. Sanders’ bid for the Democratic nomination coming up short, Mr. Sigala was still with the campaign this summer, helping to plan Mr. Sanders’ strategy for influencing the party platform at the convention.
“We’re just full steam ahead,” Mr. Sigala says.
Profile: David Holt, BA ’01
State senator and Oklahoma campaign chair for Marco Rubio
For Oklahoma state Sen. David Holt, Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign represented the future of the Republican Party.
“He speaks to my generation probably more than anyone else that was in the field,” says Mr. Holt, who was elected in 2010.
Seeking to help Mr. Rubio win the primary in the Sooner State, Mr. Holt signed on as the candidate’s Oklahoma campaign chair, an unpaid and often ceremonial title that presidential candidates dole out to elected officials across the country. But Mr. Holt viewed the position as more than an endorsement, spending his time helping to organize and mobilize supporters of Mr. Rubio in his state.
“I spent my time gathering endorsements, trying to find excuses to get his name out there as part of the story at a state level,” Mr. Holt says—efforts that ranged from lobbying other state legislators to buying campaign signs out of his own pocket to give to supporters. He saw his role akin to that of a state director in a state where Mr. Rubio had devoted few resources.
With his candidate now out of the running, Mr. Holt finds himself on unfamiliar turf. “I still miss him in the race today,” he says. “I’m very disappointed and opposed to the person that the party has nominated, which is a first for me.”
Profile: Kasey Packer, BA ’15
Event manager for the Republican National Convention
If you had been looking to host an event at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July, there’s a good bet you’ve already met Kasey Packer. And if you’re one of the 4,800 delegates or alternates, 15,000 members of the media or among the thousands of others who were planning to attend an event at the convention, she’s got you covered.
As the event manager for the RNC, Ms. Packer was overseeing all five convention complex venues—including Quicken Loans Arena, home of the Cleveland Cavaliers—that the GOP rented for their big nominating event. In the run up to the show, she was busy working with the convention’s 12 caterers and six florists to transform the basketball arena and conference spaces into meeting rooms and event locales for the numerous groups hosting events over the four-day convention.
She is one of a handful of GW alumni working on the convention, including Ninio Fetalvo, BA ’14, who works in media affairs for the convention and is the Republican National Committee’s press secretary for Asian-Pacific American engagement; Audrey Scagnelli, BA ’13, the convention’s national press secretary; and Zach Quinn, BA ’13, the deputy director of official proceedings.
Ms. Packer says the position bridged a love of politics with event planning, and she hopes to continue as a political event planner after the show is over. “Being an event manager for the convention has been amazing,” she says. “I couldn’t have dreamt up a better first job after college.”
Profile: Amy Chiou, JD ’08
Staff director/deputy director of the Democratic National Convention complex
Amy Chiou has taken to seeing the world through the eyes of a television camera lens.
Tasked with making the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia camera-ready for the Democratic National Convention in July, Ms. Chiou worked with Democratic operatives and television producers to ensure a cascade of details fell into place for the made-for-TV event. That meant everything from the carpet being the proper hue of blue to maintaining enough bandwidth for thousands of reporters to broadcast and file and tweet news from the convention.
“We’re building the infrastructure from where we will change history,” Ms. Chiou said ahead of the event.
In part, that’s meant pulling off an extravaganza alongside some of the best in politics and media. “There aren’t many jobs where you get to work with an executive producer who does the Oscars and Super Bowl halftime shows, or work with people who have been staffing presidential candidates for decades,” Ms. Chiou says. “It’s a really rich environment.”
Profile: Rob Russo, BA ’08, JD ’14
Director of correspondence and briefings for Hillary Clinton
Self-proclaimed policy wonk Hillary Clinton has often said delving into policy is her favorite part of being an elected official. And she relies on the team Rob Russo leads to keep her informed on everything from the logistics of her travel to the issues faced by the people she’ll be meeting at each stop on the trail.
“It’s a lot like publishing a newspaper that has a circulation of one,” Mr. Russo says of the briefing book he helps compile, which takes hours of work by multiple people to pull together.
Aside from ensuring the former secretary of state is well-briefed, Mr. Russo is also in charge of the vast amount of her correspondence—from replying to letters and emails from the electorate to keeping in touch with the candidate’s friends, elected officials and donors. Handling all that (mail and email messages stream in at a pace of 5,000-10,000 daily, he says), as well as keeping up with the 24-hour news cycle, makes for a grueling schedule for Mr. Russo and his team; one member of the group is always awake to ensure nothing is missed that may need to be in the next day’s briefing.
But when the schedule gets tough, Mr. Russo says the letters from supporters can be a boost.
“If we’re ever having a day on our team when we’re tired or we’re exhausted or don’t want to keep going or are overwhelmed,” he says, “it’s humbling to take the time to read some of the stories that remind you why we’re doing this.”
Profile: Alex Hornbrook, BA ’07
Director of scheduling and advance for Hillary Clinton
As the head of the team that scouts and schedules the dozens of campaign rallies and events Hillary Clinton holds each month, Mr. Hornbrook often needs to find the perfect venue at nearly a moment’s notice.
And it’s trickier than just walking into any diner or auditorium. For starters, every space needs a green light from the Secret Service, which will need to secure the area; the location needs to be able to hold the number of supporters expected to show up, without too much slack or squeeze; and, to avoid a spectacle, event spaces should have owners that share the values of the campaign. All of that vetting must be completed in a matter of days, or sometimes hours, in a fast-paced campaign that’s constantly reacting to the world around it.
“We lean a lot on our teams in the states, who are amazing and really integrate into the communities they are working in, so they usually have a lot of great recommendations,” Mr. Hornbrook says.
For Mr. Hornbrook, who is on his second tour of duty with the candidate, a boon of the job is how all this orchestration bridges far-flung departments, like communications and the budget office. “We really get exposed to every corner of the campaign,” he says.
Profile: Sally Bradshaw, BA ’87
Senior adviser to Jeb Bush
Sally Bradshaw was the architect of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign team.
As senior adviser, she was tasked with helping launch Mr. Bush’s campaign, building his staff roster from the bottom up and guiding those staffers on everything from debate prep to policy rollouts.
“I was blessed to have a view of every aspect of the campaign,” Ms. Bradshaw (née Salmon) says.
Described by The New York Times as Mr. Bush’s “closest adviser,” Ms. Bradshaw often was a sounding board for Mr. Bush, a position she rose to from a long career with the Bush family that began in 1988. She was working for the presidential campaign of George H.W. Bush, and it was then that she met his son Jeb and sparked an alliance that has lasted more than two decades, including serving as Jeb Bush’s chief of staff during his tenure as governor of Florida.
“I really believed that he would make a great president,” she says of Jeb Bush, “and, for me, when he made the decision to run, there was no question whether or not I would commit to be a part of the team.”
Although she’s disappointed that Mr. Bush didn’t win the GOP nomination, Ms. Bradshaw says she is proud of the campaign he ran.
“What you see is what you get with Jeb,” she says. “He is very committed to public service and has always cared about problem-solving.”
What It’s Like ... to cover Donald Trump
CNN Political Reporter Jeremy Diamond, BA ’14
I’ve been covering Donald Trump since before he actually announced his candidacy, [and] it’s gone from covering a candidate who we didn’t expect to go very far to covering a candidate leading in the polls, to covering the presumptive nominee for president. So it’s been a pretty wild ride. ... There are typically thousands of people at all of these rallies, and it’s been that way from the beginning. A lot of the power players in Washington took months to realize that the Trump phenomenon was a real thing. But I’ve seen that from the beginning—a lot of really passionate people attending his rallies from the moment he launched his campaign in June of 2015. ... When Jeb Bush started getting a couple hundred people at his events, it was like, ‘Oh my goodness, Jeb Bush is getting large crowds.’ But when Trump was getting 200 people, we were like, ‘What’s going on?’ I haven’t been covering a traditional campaign, and that’s been apparent from the beginning.
One of the things that I was glad to be in a position to witness and to film was [at a campaign event] in the fall of 2015, where a Black Lives Matter protester got punched, kicked and dragged by Trump supporters. … That was the only video of that incident, which we’ve seen replicated in a lot of ways. ... That’s part of my job, and I take it pretty seriously, to make sure that I’m able to witness when violence does boil over.
People are always asking me, ‘Is Donald Trump the same when you see him in private settings?’ Certainly you have the same guy in interviews, as far as how he talks about the issues he’s passionate about and the brashness with which he lays out his policy ideas. But there’s also a certain charm, in the sense that he tries to make you feel like you’re important, and he has this quality of being able to be personable when he needs to and when he wants to.
Iconic photographer and eternal San Franciscan Michael Zagaris, BA '67, has shot rock gods and all-stars, stood up to The Man and almost died twice. He’s spent his life
doing everything you always wanted to do, and now that he’s getting older ... absolutely nothing’s changed.
When the flame of an old tradition gets snuffed out, should it be rekindled—or reengineered?
A new imaging facility brings the nanometer and atomic worlds into focus.