The Making of a President

The Making of a President

Candidates lean on Colbians in bids for the White House

By Allen Lessels


When Colby (winter 2001) did a story on The Colby Reader, a quarterly that Mark Paustenbach co-founded to cover politics along with social, cultural, social, and economic issues, he admitted to being a political junkie who read the New York Times online at 12:15 a.m. to stay ahead of the day’s news.

Paustenbach is still a political junkie, but now he’s the national press secretary for presidential candidate Senator Joe Biden, too, and it’s no longer enough to stay up late and read the Times to keep current.

“The news cycle now is incredibly fast-paced,” said Paustenbach from Biden headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, where he was outside tossing a Wiffle Ball in the air. It was the only exercise he would manage to get that day, he said.

It wasn’t long ago that a campaign press secretary would be concerned mostly with a story or two on the TV news in the evening and in papers the next morning.

“I remember one time Cuzzi and I ran the numbers. ... We tried to figure out how many Yalies and people from Harvard there were, and we realized we were probably the most-represented school in the whole campaign. ...
We had all these employees from a tiny, little school. I don’t remember the Bowdoin kids, the Middlebury kids. They weren’t there.”

- Jean-Michele Picher ’96

Blogs and the Internet have changed all that.

“And it’s not just that people have blogs,” Paustenbach said. “Every reporter from a major paper has a blog they have to post to in addition to filing a story for the next day’s paper. Basically, they have to empty their notebooks for the blog. The speed that information travels is instantaneous now.”

Paustenbach is up at 6 or 6:30 every morning, reading papers and monitoring news and information as news outlets put out political tip sheets and their reports.

“At the end of the day, there are two, three, four stories that are going to dominate the news that day,” he said. “You want to get a handle on that in the morning and where things are going so you can be both responding and anticipating.”

Paustenbach and others noted how campaign work is great for developing multitasking, writing, and interpersonal skills, time management and attention to detail, negotiating and the like.

They also all have memorable scenes—campaign snapshots, most committed only to memory.

Moments like Cuzzi’s BlackBerry photo of Obama in Hanover. Another of Cuzzi and the candidate in a hotel room.

For Paustenbach it was a frenetic post-debate scene in a hotel room, cheek by jowl with media and campaign operatives. Or flying in a small plane with Biden. “In some respects, that was an ‘Almost Famous’ moment. You’re with the senator and five aides and a reporter and you’re in a small prop plane flying over a cornfield in Iowa. It’s one of those moments you wish you could snap a picture without snapping a picture. One of those things you remember for a long time.”

In late November Patrick Semmens was about to take leave from his job at a Washington, D.C., legal defense foundation to join the communications arm of the presidential campaign of Republican candidate Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.

A surge in online donations had given the Paul campaign new grassroots-fueled momentum, and Semmens, a long-time Paul admirer, decided to jump on. Semmens, who had been considering volunteering at the Paul headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, said the office was bustling with new staffers and excitement was building. The New Hampshire primary was just six weeks away, and Semmens was eager to pitch in.

How long would he be away from his foundation job? “Hopefully, a long time,” Semmens said.

Emmett Beliveau broke away from the political campaign life long enough to get a law degree. And Jean-Michel Picher is closing in on becoming a lawyer as well.

Neither could stay away from Obama’s campaign, though.

Politics is in Beliveau’s blood. His father, Severin, served in the Maine House and Senate and ran for governor. Emmett was a New England organizer for Democrats of America, a wing of the Democratic National Committee, while at Colby.

He worked on the Al Gore campaign in 2000 and was part of the DNC recount staff in Florida. That provided encouragement to get a law degree, Beliveau said.

He joined Kerry’s 2004 campaign full time after graduating from Georgetown Law and then practiced law in D.C. But Beliveau had spent a day with Obama and was impressed.

When the Obama camp called to ask if Beliveau would put together an event announcing his candidacy in Springfield, Ill., in early February 2007, he said it would be tough to leave his job for just a few weeks—but he would come on full time. He was hired.

As the campaign’s director of advance, Beliveau travels a week or two each month and, from Obama’s Chicago headquarters, coordinates advance teams around the country.

He selects and visits sites, meets with Secret Service and supporters and city officials, and lines up lights and sound and everything else needed to turn a ball field or a courtyard into a rock concert.

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