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Want to climb the campaign ladder this cycle? Pack your car and head to the nearest state capital. While the Trump administration and GOP congressional majorities are drawing would-be staffers to D.C., there’s an opportunity for the ambitious campaign professional to seize on the host of down-ballot contests in 2018.
This cycle, there are 36 gubernatorial elections, 16 with term-limited incumbents. Open seats typically mean multi-candidate primaries that translate into more employment opportunities for political operatives.
It also means that elected officials further down the ballot will be taking the plunge for higher office, opening up attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer and agriculture commissioner seats across the country. Don’t forget the thousand plus state legislative elections, some of which will raise and spend more money than a congressional race.
All of these races mean that campaigns are getting started earlier than usual in an effort to secure the top political talent. It’s a simple case of supply versus demand. How can potential staffers make the most of these opportunities? Specialization.
Like any industry that’s been around for a while, the natural evolution of labor inevitably moves towards specialization. Think back to 2008 or 2010 when most campaigns handled their Facebook accounts and email blasts internally (if they even had a digital strategy).
Now, there’s no shortage of digital vendors and social media tools dedicated specifically to political campaigns and voter outreach. In fact, the trend has shifted into overdrive. In addition to the explosion of data and digital firms, there is also been a growth in grassroots vendors and paid canvassing operations that are designed to capitalize on the enhanced data mining and modeling techniques being used.
All of these political vendors need account managers. Some may need help with sales. Meanwhile others, like grassroots vendors, will need actual boots on the ground to execute the strategy. Because many of these vendors offer good pay and better benefits than campaigns are able to provide, the vendor jobs are highly sought after by political operatives with a few cycles under their belts.
What this means for political professionals is not only increased job prospects, but also the opportunity to become an expert with a specific skill set. As I was traveling the country last year, part of my outreach involved visiting college campuses and networking with students and professors.
I was struck by the number of students in non-political science majors who were beginning to realize the opportunities available to them in the campaign industry. Many students majoring in data science or statistics approached me with résumés asking for help getting on a race upon graduation. As our industry is thrust even more into the spotlight over the next few years, I only expect that interest to grow.
Another factor influencing the political job market is the growing interest from corporate America for operatives with specific skill sets. Moving beyond the traditional government relations career track, the ability to thrive in a high-pressure environment, make decisions quickly, and take on a leadership role are traits business leaders are noticing campaign professionals bring to the table. Whatever track you’re on, this cycle will be a boom time for those with campaign experience.
Evan Stewart is executive director at Majority Hunter, a Republican operative staffing agency.