Dr. Politics: Launching a Career in Politics or Right of Center Policy

By Dwight Patel

Let’s say you want to be the next Karl Rove, Lee Atwater, Grover Norquist or Morton Blackwell. Since this is the off-season, I’d like to share with you some highlights about my path and the paths of some of my friends who worked in politics or policy and how they got there.  The important thing to remember is that most people don’t stay in the political arena forever.  The average time spent is five to eight years campaigning, and a few stick with it for ten years.   Yours truly left in 1998 for good and made the transition to policy.

I will cover what a few of my campaign friends and I did and where are they now. The first thing I’d like to mention is that it takes a special kind of mindset to get into the world of campaigns.  It’s not for whose who are looking for a simple 9 to 5 job with relaxing weekends for yourself. 

However, if you enjoy working 12+ hours per day on 3 to 5 different projects, moving around the country every 12 to 18 months from campaign to campaign, moving u up the ladder, this lifestyle might be just what you ordered.  Be prepared to move away from home, sometimes far away, to strange towns where you may not know a soul. You’ll find out very soon whether the fast-paced life on the campaign trail is right for you. (P.S.: For those of you living in blue states like Maryland, good luck waging a winning campaign and climbing the ladder any higher than a volunteer.) 

Before You Jump In, you need to have a great deal of background knowledge, and be able to hold an intelligent and thoughtful conversation about the issues. Read your local newspaper. Then read your statewide newspapers. Then read the national newspapers: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times. Find good local bloggers like the Daily Caller, Townhall or refer to my previous article titled “What does Dr. Politics Do in the Off-Season? for a more complete list of right-of-center bloggers, podcasters and so on.  Stay current on the issues.  If there's a particular problem in your town or county, think about some viable solutions.

Getting Started – Volunteer for a Political Campaign

Every political campaign—whether it be for your local school board on up to legislature or Congress—needs hard workers, the people who serve as the boots on the ground. If you want to get an idea of how politics really works, walk into any campaign headquarters and offer to help out. You'll likely be asked to do what appear to be menial tasks at first, things like helping to register new voters or making phone calls on behalf of a candidate. You might be handed a clipboard and a list of registered voters and told to go and canvass the neighborhood. But if you do the job well, you'll be given more responsibilities and a more visible role in the campaign.

Volunteering is how I got started.  Back in the summer of 1984, I watched my first political convention, from start to finish, and became fascinated with all of the goings-on at the event. I remember my brother’s friend who was the volunteer coordinator for the Reagan campaign in New Jersey.  When I went up with my brother to do a sign wave for President Reagan, it was a thrill. When I got back, I did some mail stuffing as a volunteer for the Connie Morella for Congress campaign in Maryland’s 8th District. That was the extent of my volunteer work in 1984.

I sat out 1986 when Republican Delegate Thomas J. Mooney a Takoma Park native, (YES, A REPUBLICAN FROM TAKOMA PARK WAS THE REPUBLICAN NOMINEE FOR GOVERNOR IN 1986) shook up the election cycle. His running mate was Mel Bial, a Baltimore County Lawyer and businessman.  They ran against Mayor William Donald Schaefer, and we know how that movie ended.  I sat that year out.  However, in 1988, I volunteered for Vice President George H. W. Bush’s campaign for president.  That was one heck of a campaign ride. 

I met some great people on that campaign such as former MCGOP Chairman Dr. Albert E. Bullock, future Chairman Bob Clark, and last but never least, the Dean of Politics in Montgomery County, Katja Bullock. Katja was also key in helping us Generation One TARS get invited to the Inauguration of President George H. W. Bush, along with the Inaugural Ball and the Junior Inaugural Ball.  (I think that might have been the first year they did the Junior Ball for young people).  

Then in 1990 when I was a student at George Washington University, I joined the Bill Shepherd for Governor Campaign.  This is where I moved up from my former volunteer status to being a paid campaign worker. I was hired as “the jack of jobs to do.”  I did a little bit of everything from working with the press secretary to coordinating with College Republicans at various college in the DMV.

Join the Republican Party

Getting into politics, in a lot of ways, really is about who you know, not what you know. And an easy way to get to know important people is to join or run for a seat on your local Republican Party committee.  In many states these are elected positions, so you'll need to get your name on the local ballot, which is a good learning process in and of itself.  When I was in College at GW, I ran four precincts for the Montgomery County GOP for about four years. 

Precinct Chairman

The Job of a Precinct Chairman is to have the poll covered on primary and general election day.  A good Precinct Chairman will pick up the phone and reach out to potential volunteers to cover the 12 hours on Election Day. 

District Chairman

The job of a District Chairman is to one get Precinct Chairmen for all the precincts in your district.  Then it is also the job of the District Chairman to work with the campaigns, the party and coordinate lit drops and have precincts covered for election day.

These are the rank-and-file of the best party anywhere – the Republicans Party – and players in the political process. Their responsibilities include turning out the vote for the party's preferred candidates in primaries and general elections and screening potential candidates for local offices.  This is where many good volunteers are discovered for paid positions.

Contribute Money to Political Candidates

It's no secret in politics that money buys access. In an ideal world that wouldn't be the case. But donors often have the ear of their favorite candidate. The more money they give, the more access they get. And the more access they get the more influence they might have over policy. So, what can you do? Contribute to a political candidate of your choice in the community. Even if you contribute just $20, the candidate will notice and make it a point to acknowledge your help in the campaign. That's a good start. You can also start your own political action committee or super PAC to support candidates of your choice.

Final Thoughts

As always, feel free to drop me a line at [email protected].  Also check out Dr. Politics and the Political Architects podcasts Here.  In future columns I will introduce you to some of my friends and acquaintances who have worked in politics and their career paths.

More on getting a Career in Politics

Also view this video from the George W. Bush Center – View

Montgomery County Republican Party