Alumni Connections: On the campaign trail

The hallways are bursting with energy, and status and gossip can be like currency. At times you wonder how work gets done in all the chaos. Pizza and caffeine certainly help.

A Princeton dorm? No, the headquarters of John Edwards’ presidential campaign, where four Princetonians have been working over the last year to put Edwards in the White House.

For Ryan McCabe ’07, Pauly Rodney ’00, Michael Signer ’95, and Dominic Williams ’05, working at the campaign’s headquarters in Chapel Hill, N.C., is not entirely unlike college. The candidate’s daughter, Cate Edwards ’04, also works on the campaign, traveling on weekends from Boston, where she’s in law school at Harvard.

“There’s a rambunctious quality, and it’s very collegial,” says Signer, a Washington attorney who’s on leave to advise the candidate on foreign policy. “When I’m writing a speech, it’s not dissimilar to being stuck in the carrels” of Firestone Library, he says.

According to Princeton’s TigerNet alumni directory, the only other campaign with more Tigers toiling for it might be Barack Obama’s. Five graduate school alumni and two undergrad alums list the Obama campaign as their employer; they’re scattered around the country. And the candidate’s wife, Michelle, graduated in 1985. No alumni list Hillary Clinton’s campaign as their employer, and of the leading Republican candidates only Mitt Romney has one undergraduate alumnus associated with his campaign in Boston.

In the Edwards camp, Cate Edwards had something to do with the infusion of orange and black in a college town known more for Carolina blue. The alumni working to elect her father mostly knew her, or knew friends of hers, before they signed on.

As the Democratic primaries approached — and this article went to press —Signer was leaving headquarters to lend a hand in Iowa. Williams, a philosophy major who taught at a Manhattan prep school, was tracking and fact-checking media coverage. McCabe, who started as an intern for the advance team soon after graduation, shifted from the compliance department to do field work in Nevada, where he was canvassing and mobilizing support before Nevada’s Jan. 19 caucus.

Rodney, who worked for Edwards’ 2004 campaign and in community relations for the National Basketball Association, supervises volunteers and interns nationwide. Two Princeton undergraduates interned with the campaign over the summer, and other alumni are part of the volunteer network. When Whitman College opened in the fall, alumni crowded around a computer at campaign headquarters to look at photos.

“It’s comforting that no matter how difficult things get,” says Rodney, “you can always talk about something familiar.”

Massie Ritsch ’98 is the communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics, a watchdog group in Washington that tracks the money financing the 2008 election.