Saturday, October 11, 2008

October Files: How Staffers Survive The Campaign

WE'VE MOVED! Democratic Convention Watch is now at

For campaign staffers, these last weeks of the campaign are the most physically taxing of the election cycle. The is no time off, we work seven days a week, for at least 12 hours a day. This marathon becomes a sprint to the finish in trying to cram as many voter contact activities, fundraisers and press hits into the final days.

As you can imagine, this takes a physical toll on staff.

The lack of sleep, poor diet and intense hours make an impact. During this time, staffers run on adrenaline - and that's the only thing that keeps us from getting sick before election day. Many staffers become chain smokers, and virtually all of us converge at a local watering hole after work to debrief and as a means to unwind from the long work days.

Once the election is over and the adrenaline wears off, it is common for staffers to get sick for a few days.

Young staffers can usually make do sleeping on a couch for a few hours, live off of campaign pizza and energy drinks. But now that I'm 35, well, I just can't live like that and expect to be able to function the same way in the morning. So as I've gotten older, I've developed a simple regimine to survive the final month of the campaign. I'm not saying I'm in great shape (these days I have to work out just to stay portly), but I do function a lot better when I do the following.

Quit the booze! I know what you're thinking - why is this a big deal? Are staffers just a bunch of raging alcoholics? Well, yes and no. That thing I mentioned about a post-work gathering at a local bar is true, and it's a hard cycle to break. That said, I generally require my staff to go sober as well. So, no beers during the final three weeks. Note: this is never a popular rule.

Plan some meals & snacks in advance. On Sundays I'll hardboil eggs and put them in plastic bags for the week - so that I can have something decent to eat as I'm running out the door each morning. I'll stock up on low-sodium Progresso soup at the office, Quaker brand Chewy granola bars as well as apples and peanut butter (I like JIF). I avoid putting anything in the campaign refrigerator. For those of you who don't know why, let me just tell you that they put any dorm room refrigerator you've ever seen to shame...

Get exercise when you can, where you can. Whether it's a few push-ups in the conference room, walking to grab lunch, or helping to unload a truck of campaign brochures - I try to get some activity during the course of each day.

Make your own coffee. Going to Starbucks every day will make you go broke - something most staffers can't afford to do since, win or lose, we'll all be out of a job come November. I guess this is more of an economic than a health issue, but worth noting anyway.

Ultimately, the hardest thing to do is to totally avoid the regular flow of pizza, sodas and snacks in the campaign office. And truth be told, no one does totally avoid it. But making sure that it is not your sole source of nourishment during the final weeks will make a big difference in maintaining stamina and focus down the stretch!