Electing a Life on the Run

By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 28, 2007

Every four years it comes, like some celestial event -- inevitable and, apparently, irresistible: campaign season.

And with it, the hordes of otherwise reasonable human beings who desert their families, their jobs and their sleep patterns to join the fray -- and who know, even as they sign up, that havoc will immediately descend on their personal lives.

Collateral damage: Sean Noble missed his daughter's first dance recital. Jason Roe was in Boston when his wife needed consoling in Washington. Catherine Cameron is a newlywed, living alone.

"I just wished he was there to unpack the wedding gifts with me," Cameron says. But the morning after their honeymoon, her husband was gone -- back to Chicago, back to Obama.

So far, the 2008 presidential campaigns have employed more than 3,000 paid workers and countless volunteers, who will next year be joined by thousands of others working on congressional campaigns -- a legion of operatives living on four hours' sleep, Triple Whoppers and a hefty supply of Red Bull.

"These are greedy institutions," says Halcy Bohen, a psychologist who's counseled dozens of political types over her 27 years in Washington. "They eclipse everything else. Often the election work crowds out the family and the personal lives. And there are prices to pay."

For those who signed on early, it could mean almost two years of a schedule that's always in flux. Of never knowing what news story will break or emergency will need fixing in the middle of Mom and Dad's golden anniversary party. Of missing holiday dinners and siblings' homecomings and New Year's Eve kisses and opening presents under the tree.

"All I can say is thank God we live in the age of Internet shopping, 'cause that's the only way you can do it -- between the hours of midnight and 1 a.m.," says Mo Elleithee, a spokesman for Hillary Clinton who spent Christmas in Des Moines. "This is such a unique experience for everyone. Never before have the holidays been right on top of the Iowa caucuses -- usually there's a bit of a cushion."

Look at Jim Dornan, who's managed nine campaigns over the years, each time packing up to a new state, shipping his cats off to friends and putting whatever relationship he's in on pause. He points out his office window to the Old Post Office Pavilion, as if it sums up his transient existence: "I've had a mailbox over there for 10 years."

There's no mystery in Dornan's mind about why he's not married. "Everything you can't move you leave behind," he says. "I have honestly thought, how can I subject any woman to this?"

But most partners of die-hard campaigners know what they're getting into from the start. Catherine Cameron did. She met Emmett Beliveau seven years ago when they were both working to elect Al Gore, and she liked Beliveau as much for his competence as his kindness.

She always knew it was a matter of "when, not if" he would hear the siren call of another campaign. When he popped the question last Christmas, Beliveau was an associate with a D.C. law firm, available for dinners out and Sunday matinees. Three weeks later, Barack Obama's team called. Beliveau spent most of their engagement in Chicago, as he has the first months of their marriage. The two have never lived together.

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