A few days ago, my colleague Jon Geeting ran an article asking why a 20-year-old college student was running PA State Representative Brendan Boyle’s campaign to replace Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz in the 13th congressional district. I have stayed silent on this issue thus far. However, recent developments are forcing my hands to the keyboard.
First, some background.
I knew Jon’s article would cause a stir when I read it in the pre-posting phase. I knew it would make the consulting class snicker, the Brady machine boil, encourage Boyle’s opponents, and energize young people to work even harder for Boyle. Crucially, however, Jon’s article wasn’t about questioning whether a “teenager could run a political campaign well.” Instead, Jon was asking why Boyle couldn’t attract more experienced talent to lead his campaign.
As PoliticsPA has pointed out, Boyle’s “previous Finance Director and former spokesperson left the campaign in July and later took a position with Schwartz for Governor” and “his DC-based consulting firm 4C Partners shed its fundraising duties and retracted to media consulting.”
In fact, “the highest ranking staffer on team Boyle is Finance Director Adam Erickson,” and the college student in question’s title is campaign coordinator and she serves as campaign spokesperson. Again quoting PoliticsPA, “[t]he rest of Boyle’s campaign, for the most part, is a group of college students who work as interns and sometimes staff.”
Jon’s article prompted a letter from the Pennsylvania College Democrats Eastern Vice President, my friend and former College Dems colleague Dylan Morpurgo , that passionately defended Boyle and his campaign. “No wonder young people find disillusion with politics; they are laughed off as young, inexperienced, and unqualified, even by their progressive allies,” said Morpurgo.
“Young people are the future of this commonwealth and should be given the opportunity to prove themselves,” he added.
However, the letter—while written for all the right reasons—is counterproductive. It keeps the story alive, keeps the attention on staff instead of candidate, and as PoliticsPA rightly points out, “[m]ost campaigns are anything but eager to see those kinds of headlines about staff.”
Enough background. Here’s the rub.
I’m a 22-year-old second year law student and former College Democrat. I’ve worked on campaigns at levels ranging from mayoral to county to congressional to gubernatorial to senatorial, as both an intern and on paid staff. I’ve served as a field organizer and field director, done opposition research and opposition communications, and I’ve served as campaign manager too.
However, I would be extremely reluctant to run a congressional campaign if I was asked to do so tomorrow. I would turn it down immediately, unless it was for a very short time frame on an emergency basis. Here’s why:
First, no matter how mature we young people think we are, we are too reactive and tend to miss the big picture. We are emotional before we are rational, and we focus on daily tasks instead of campaign-long objectives. This can only be learned the hard way, through majorly screwing up.
Second, no matter how much experience a young staffer might think they have gained, they likely have not yet gained perspective. It is one thing to know how to do something; it is completely another thing to understand the relative weight of the roadblocks, opportunities, and miscues that are inevitable in the life of a campaign. If you miscalculate even one too many times, you lose. Period.
Third, if a congressional candidate approached me tomorrow and asked me to run their campaign, I would be extremely suspicious of their pick. Their request would say little about the strength of my lengthy resume at a young age, but it would say a great deal about the candidate’s inability to attract heavy-hitters who know how to win. Your candidate is likely in dire straits or unelectable.
Having young people on a campaign is necessary because, as Dylan points out, young people have energy, passion, and unyielding optimism. I encourage any and every candidate to take as many interns as you can handle, and pay the good ones to have real responsibilities.
But—and this is a message to young political operatives out there—by biting off more than you can chew, you aren’t helping the candidate. And by putting you in a position in which you are likely to drown, the candidate isn’t helping you either.