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Advice for a Young Conservative

I was in Lubbock, TX this weekend, conducting a campaign training seminar.  This morning, I received this email asking for advice (edited to ensure anonymity).  I figure that if one person has these questions, there might be someone else out there who does, as well.  Here’s the email I received:

Matt,

First, I wanted to thank you for giving the seminar this Saturday in Lubbock, I thoroughly enjoyed it (I was the guy on your right close to the front).

I love politics.  I love campaigns.  I know that I want to be one of three people a candidate, a chief of staff, or a campaign manager.  The latter two are probably more likely for me, but, that’s not important right now.

I was wondering if you could give me some advice as to what steps to take to better enable me to get into professional politics as you have done.

I am currently in my first year of law school and will be graduating in May 2008 probably too late to get into any campaigns at that point (but maybe not?).  However, I will have at least two summers where I will be able to garner some experience and was wondering where you think I should apply and what would be most beneficial. 

Finally, I’ve noticed that (edited) offers an MA degree in campaign management and was wondering what your thoughts were on this program and other such programs.  Would it be at all credible or provide me a method of getting my foot in the door or would it be a waste of a year where I could be working on a more local issue.

I do realize that you are busy.  And, I apologize for asking all these questions at once.  But, at the moment, you are the only person I’ve ever met who does what I really want to do with my life and hope that you could help me.

Thanks in advance for your help.

My response:

Great meeting you this weekend.  Here are a few thoughts:

– Read as much as you can about politics.  Here’s my recommended reading list.  Pay special attention to the books about leadership and networking.  In many cases, this info will be more useful to you than the political-specific stuff.  Also, you can read some of my articles here

– Attempt to intern one summer at the Leadership Institute in Arlington, Va.  This is probably the best internship for conservatives.  Housing is provided, and there is a small stipend.  This internship will provide you with political training, as well as networking opportunities.  It will change your life.

– Keep in mind that like anything else, success in politics is a process.  I started out volunteering, then interning, then working at an organization for four years, then moving to North Dakota for a year to manage a Congressional race, etc.  It looks glamorous when you present it in a bio – but the truth is that it was a matter of working hard every day, and using what you’ve got to get to the next level.  And I’ve still got a lot to learn.

– I would not recommend seeking a Master’s in political management.  The best way to get experience in management is to volunteer or work in campaigns.  The credibility you’d get from a Master’s in political management isn’t worth the money invested.  Instead, use your education for law, communications – or some other traditional avocation. 

– Look for mentors.  Having an older, wiser, and successful person looking out for you is very important.  The only way to find one is to ask for advice, etc.  Look for leaders and ask if you can take them to breakfast.  Most of them will give you advice, but won’t be willing to mentor you.  However, you will eventually find a few who will.  Make sure these people are of the utmost character and reputation, because a bad mentor is worse than no mentor.  Also, it is a good idea to start immediately helping conservatives younger than you.  Not only is this the right thing to do, it will pay dividends (you never know where that young person will be in five years).

– If you have a choice between jobs (while you’re young) choose to be a little fish in a big pond, rather than a big fish in a small pond.  For example, it might be fun to manage a State Rep. Race, but working as a gopher on a Presidential race will offer you more opportunities to make connections and network.  These connections are going to be what takes you to the next level.

– As you might have noticed, much of my advice is based on humbling yourself.  Interning, volunteering on a campaign, finding a mentor, reading – all presuppose you and I have a lot to learn – all require sacrifice.  Both are vital to success.

– Luck is involved, but your job is to be ready to take advantage when the opportunity presents itself.  The two most important skills that you will need in politics aren’t taught at campaign training seminars: Leadership and writing skills.  Work on both of these.  Read books and attend seminars that will teach you to be better at both of these.  Then, when opportunity presents itself, you’ll be ready to take advantage.

Hope this helps.  Good luck!

Matt

I posted this thinking that maybe there’s someone else out there who will read this and be helped by it.  But I don’t have all the answers.  If you have any other ideas that I could send to this young conservative, please email me at MLewis@campaignleadership.com.  Thanks.

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Mr. Lewis has managed political campaigns and served as director of grassroots for the Leadership Institute, as well as political director for GOPAC. In 2002, Campaigns & Elections magazine selected him as a "Rising Star of Politics." He is the author of "Teaching Elephants to Talk." His blog can be read at MattLewis.org.

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