What Life on the Campaign Trail Is Really Like

​"I think I'll never eat pizza again after this."

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As the presidential primaries shift from state to state, staffers and volunteers work around the clock calling potential voters, knocking on doors, arranging huge rallies, and scheduling last-minute candidate interviews with the press. They're the ones hustling to get things done at all hours—meaning they're the ones who usually go unseen. 

Here, MarieClaire.com speaks with 10 campaign staffers to find out what it's really like to log long hours behind the scenes for a potential future president.

Emmalee Kalmbach, 25

Communication Staffer for John Kasich

How much sleep do you get a night?

Probably four or five hours on a good night. Luckily, I don't live here in the headquarters. But we've got about eight people staying here right now. And two people live here consistently for about nine weeks. And we just rotate air mattresses, futons.

What's your go-to meal?

Luckily, we've got generous volunteers who will get us pizzas or get us sandwiches. We don't have an oven; we have a hot plate. For the love of Kasich!

What's your favorite memory so far?

One of our first weekends here, we took a couple of days to go to Vermont to collect signatures and we invaded this wassail cider festival in Vermont. It was very much a kids' event, though. People from all over the state came to this event. Woodstock is beautiful. And there were hundreds of volunteers that we met that came to help us collect signatures, and that was a lot of fun.


Scott Blake, 29

Regional Political Director for the National John Kasich Campaign

How much sleep do you get a night?

Depends on the day. But usually in the five-hour range.

What's your go-to meal?

We've got a volunteer who cooks us soup every night. He's the father of 12 children, so he knows about cooking for large numbers of people. Also, Naked Juice all day long. We're trying not to weigh 300 pounds at the end of the day. There's a Planet Fitness down the way, too. We call it our hour in the yard every day. It's a nice break.

What's the best perk about working on a campaign?

It's an adrenaline rush unlike anything else in the professional life I've encountered. I don't think there'd be any other situation that makes you work as hard or care as much. It's a unique thing in our profession that you get to experience this rush of adrenaline that I personally have not felt since playing sports, that competitive drive. You run the race and at the end of the race there's a winner and there's a loser. It's black and white. There's no gray area. That's what keeps me in it.

"It's an adrenaline rush unlike anything else I've encountered​."

What's your favorite memory so far?

Our first big door-to-door deployment in Manchester. It was mid-January and our first big deployment of volunteers arrived from Ohio. Seeing all these familiar faces, who came all the way to New Hampshire to support the governor, was a really cool experience.


Julia Barnes, 33

State Director for the New Hampshire Bernie Sanders Campaign

How much sleep do you get a night?

I'm very acutely aware of this number because I'm a person who does not do well without sleep. I'm operating on between four and four and a half hours a night now. For the last week it's been more like two, two and a half. Last night was two.

What's your go-to meal?

I have tried really hard to stay away from the pizza, but that's an unavoidable hazard of the campaign trail. It's just everywhere. Even if you don't want it, volunteers will bring it to you. But what I do to try to stay away from the junk food is I put together a green smoothie in the morning. I just put it in a mason jar and drag it around with me. So even if I'm eating a ton of pizza over the course of the day, I at least know I'm going to get my serving of vegetables in somehow. It's kale, banana, mango, protein powder, and coconut water.

What's the best perk about working on a campaign?

There are two: The excitement of having a job that day to day is wildly different. It's also really exciting to have a job where you can see the fruit of your work immediately. Not just as winning an election or a big victory, but you have these little victories over the course of the day that make this rewarding: like the volunteers who had a really great canvas shift, or you approved a mail piece that looks great. The second thing is the camaraderie that you build on campaigns. It's like summer camp. People you've known for a month or two months, you feel like you've known them for like six or seven years. You build really strong bonds, and it creates a really great network to continue your career in.

"It's like summer camp​."

What's your favorite memory so far?

I've been locked out of my office a few times, which always results in hilarity. No, I think my favorite memory is an event we did in September at University of New Hampshire. It was the first time the senator had been there and we were sort of nervous about how many people were going to come out. We'd booked this huge venue at the Field House. It was 95 degrees, no air conditioning. So at that point, I was just losing my mind. We were like, "College students are not going to sit around for an hour and half lecture from Senator Sanders in 95 degree weather." We were hoping for 1,000 people; there were 3,300 students there. And he was on fire that night and they sat for over an hour and a half listening to everything from racial inequality to wealth disparity. They were really engaged in this really high-level intellectual conversation about the politics that are happening in this country. It was wonderful to see. Everyone was just sweating and so happy. You look out and it's like, this is the fruit of your work.


Erika Andiola, 28 

Bernie Sanders National Latino Press Secretary

How much sleep do you get a night?

I would say like an average of five. When I'm lucky I get a little more.

What's your go-to meal?

Well, I haven't eaten today! I would say an average meal is very little food—and whatever I'm able to get is really bad food. Lots of fast food.

What's your favorite memory so far?

We are usually in the same place or the same hotel when Sanders does prep for the debates. And sometimes he'll sneak in and be like, "I don't know what it is you do, but keep it up! It's working!" He's also probably a little bit tired and overworked. Seeing his strength, I feel like I am always more tired than he is. 


Arianna Jones, 28

Bernie Sanders Deputy Communications Director

How much sleep do you get a night?

Ha! It depends. I mean, a luxurious day would be seven. And typically five and that's sort of intermittently checking your email in the middle of the night, waking up in a panic of if you forgot something or if you forgot to call someone. So, yeah. It depends.

What's your go-to meal?

My go-to meals are the ones the fine volunteers donate to the different headquarters. I think honestly I would be in a worse-off place if people weren't donating real home-cooked meals. But then there's also the pizza. I think I'll never eat pizza again after this.

What's your favorite memory so far?

Madison, Wisconsin. I think that was our first huge-numbers rally. I helped manifest the press-risers, and to see how much press showed up, that was a big deal for me. I knew about Bernie from the time I went to college because I went to the University of Vermont. But I think it was the moment that we started seeing the press start to show up.

What's the best perk about working on a campaign?

Getting to see parts of America that I otherwise might not have the chance to see.


Patricia Klee, 55

Hillary Clinton Volunteer

How much sleep do you get a night?

In the past week or so, I've probably had about three hours of sleep a night. There are others who've slept at the office, or they've slept at another volunteer's house because they don't live in the area.

What's your go-to meal?

I've been bringing food. But we've got incredible volunteers who last night brought homemade chili. One night we had someone who made tortilla soup, another time, they set up a taco bar. Last night, they set up a grilled cheese and soup bar. But you know what we eat most of all? Those Nature Valley granola bars. And pizza's a big one.

What's the best perk about working on a campaign?

I think it's the people. You meet these amazing people who are just so passionate. And it's passion without anger. 

"You meet these amazing people who are just so passionate. And it's passion without anger."

What's your favorite memory so far?

I think this past week. Last night there was a dance competition right here in the office. We were just having fun. There were volunteers sitting on the floor cheering, sitting on the tables. We ran out of chairs! My takeaway is you can care and still have a lot of fun.


Jessica Ayala, 39

Hillary Clinton Volunteer

How much sleep do you get a night?

I would say honestly, I average six or seven hours.

What's your go-to meal?

For dinner, it tends to be pizza that the volunteers bring. It's not like I sit at home and eat pizza every day, so I definitely take advantage of that! In the morning, if I'm canvasing or doing phone banking, I'll have coffee and donuts that people bring here. I mean, I'll try to have a banana or something, too. But I always have to have my coffee.

What's the best perk about working on a campaign?

I became a team leader, so my responsibility is to get volunteers in the door. So, I talk to friends, anybody in the community. There are very knowledgable people who work here. To work with them and to do a job we all believe in is really inspiring to me.

What's your favorite memory so far?

My favorite memory is probably meeting my boyfriend. I'm on the volunteer level, and he's on the organizer level. He is so respected in this town, and he's inspired so many people. I would guarantee that a lot of people here are still here because of him. We met in the office. He was just like, "Oh, you're a volunteer? How did you like the event?" And then we talked more about how to get involved and then that was it. That was at the beginning, probably nine months ago!


Victoria Sanchez, 16

Hillary Clinton Volunteer

How much sleep do you get a night?

Four hours, on average, give or take. The last three of four days have been the most insane, but it's always kind of busy.

What's your go-to meal?

A sandwich from a shop up the street because they're cheap and I get at least some nutrients in. And we always have volunteers that bring stuff in. Especially the past couple of nights, they've brought actual meals for us. You don't really see it right now, but someone brought in a bunch of fruit earlier, so I made sure I at least had like one orange for the day.

What's the best perk about working on a campaign?

Definitely the people that you meet. I've met Secretary Clinton six times now. [When I met Clinton for the first time] I sort of freaked out. When you see people on TV, and you see them from afar, and then you see them right there and it's like, Wow, you're a real person, too. I've met so many state reps, senators, governors, the president of Emily's List. I never would've thought I'd have the opportunities that I've had.

What's your favorite memory so far?

When I was on the Today show with Secretary Clinton, and my two friends and I were leaving and she was like, "Bye, I'll see you in Manchester!" She stopped and made sure to say bye to us because we were going to be seeing her again later in the day. 

 

That probably stood out the most to me. That she actually took the time to remember our names and stop to make sure to say bye to us. A lot of people think she isn't very personable, but having met her, she's one of the most sincere people I know. You don't really see that side of politics often.


Neal Mehrotra, 27

Ted Cruz Volunteer

How much sleep do you get a night?

We leave at around 8:30 every morning to go door-knocking and we get back at around 9:30 [at night], so there's plenty of time to get sleep. I stay at Camp Cruz–it's a place where the volunteers are accommodated. It's an old college dormitory. So, you stay there and Camp Cruz pays for the dorm, so you can volunteer and don't have to get a hotel. The Strike Force or the Cruz Crew stays there. I don't know how much sleep, though. It's hard to say. I haven't been paying attention to that at all.

What's your go-to meal?

Whatever's across the street. They have specials across the street, $5 subs. I like Subway. Subway's efficient and cheap. It's healthy-ish.

What's the best perk about working on a campaign?

The best perk is probably having the best candidate. I haven't been on other campaigns. I was an investment banker, then went back to law school. But speaking about this campaign, I like the candidate a lot. I don't think it's about anything other than the candidate and the grassroots. Grassroots win elections. And I think that's what this campaign has: the grassroots.

What's your favorite memory so far?

My parents came up from New York for a rally in Milford. Ted Cruz was speaking at a restaurant there, and afterwards I introduced them. They got a photo and he talked to them for a little while. My mom was very happy–she was like, "He knows you very well!" It was a good conversation that they had. I'm glad that they finally got to meet him. I made them supporters of his.


Jonathan Macalpine, 21

Ted Cruz Volunteer

How much sleep do you get a night?

Well, I work all through the night, so probably three. Officially, the day ends at 9 p.m. but afterwards we'll all stay up and talk politics at Camp Cruz. Last night, the guys went to bed at 4 a.m. And we had to be up at about 6 a.m. There are men and women that stay at Camp Cruz. Ee had as many as 68 people there one night.

Is there any hooking up at the house?

Oh no, totally no, not at all. 

What's your go-to meal?

For me, it's been Panera Bread. It's not that healthy, but it's a lot better than fast food or junk food. I usually just get soup in a bowl or a panini or something.

What's the best perk about working on a campaign?

I think the experience. You're able to go out and meet people interested in the same issues as you.

What's your favorite memory so far?

It actually just happened today. These guys over there are from Amsterdam. And that guy, I forget his name already, but, he was teaching me some Dutch! I know some people from there and we kinda connected over that. He told me how to say "It's comfortable," or "It's cozy." And he taught me to say, "Thank you." So, I was super excited about that.

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