They’ve shared vegan cheesesteaks with Sen. Cory Booker and erected a mini-Gritty shrine in the “Joe Biden for President” headquarters. The primaries are still months away, but for these political operatives with local ties, campaign season started months ago.
We reached out to top staffers from the region working for Democratic candidates or President Donald Trump to ask about life on the 2020 campaign trail. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Philly ties: Grew up in Overbrook, graduated from Masterman and the University of Pennsylvania. State director for Sen. Bob Casey from 2017 to 2019; deputy Pennsylvania state director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign; Casey staffer from 2006 to 2011.
Why Biden? “We think of him as our third senator here, so it felt very personal. And then when the vice president talks about why he’s in this race, he references the fight for the soul of the nation and the events of Charlottesville and President Trump’s words in that space — that’s meaningful to me as a woman and a person of color.”
Most memorable campaign moment? Biden’s Aug. 7 speech in Iowa about rising white nationalism. And the kickoff at the Art Museum.
Philly ties: Raised in Havertown and Exton. Graduated from Malvern Prep and the University of Delaware.
Political experience: Dennis Spivack for Congress, 2006; associate director of administration in the Office of the Vice President; adviser to Biden’s national security team; Biden spokesperson since 2017.
Why Biden? “I’ve seen him inspire big crowds at rallies, but also seen him quietly comforting grieving families away from the cameras; he is in public who he is in private, which is authentic, sincere, and an incredibly decent human being.”
If my candidate weren’t in the race, I’d be working for: “The Flyers? Maybe run the Gritty social media account.”
Advice on how to appeal to Pennsylvania voters? “That would be like giving Rhys Hoskins advice on crushing homers. He knows the state. This is a place where people really value authenticity and sincerity.”
Philly ties: From Montgomeryville, graduate of North Penn High School.
Campaign experience: John Kerry, 2004; Barack Obama, 2008; Booker (no relation to the candidate) worked on the staff of the Democratic National Convention and was African American outreach director on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
What drew you to politics? Closely following the 2000 presidential election between Al Gore and George W. Bush.
What do you miss about Philly? “Cheesesteaks, pretzels, pizza, all the things that made me gain weight when I was here for the DNC.” (Sen. Booker, a vegan, who ate a deep-fried PB&J at the Iowa state fair, bought her a vegan cheesesteak when they were both in Philadelphia last week.)
Most memorable campaign moment? Going to Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., with Sen. Booker in March. “It was probably the most emotional moment in my lifetime, and I’m not being dramatic. From that point on, it didn’t feel like we were coworkers; it felt like people who experienced something stronger.”
Philly ties: Lower Merion High School graduate.
Political experience: Joseph Hoeffel’s 2004 Senate race; Virginia campaign for Barack Obama and Mark Warner. He also worked at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Governors Association.
Why Inslee? “I really believe in governors because they’ve had great experience getting things done, especially at a time when Washington, D.C., is not getting much done. He has a really compelling message around climate change that needs to be heard today.”
What do you miss about Philly? Amoroso rolls, Citizens Bank Park, the Linc, and the neighborhoods.
Most memorable campaign moment? Helping to translate 40-page papers on environmental policy into Cliffs Notes. Also announcing those plans at a wastewater treatment plant in D.C. “It was not the best-smelling press conference, but it certainly demonstrated the jobs that are possible in clean energy.”
Philly ties: Bucks County field director; Obama 2012 reelection campaign; settled in the city.
Political experience: Managed Councilmember Helen Gym’s campaign in 2015; John Fetterman’s campaign for Senate in 2016; Pennsylvania political director for Hillary Clinton in 2016; managed Andrew Gillum’s upset in 2018 Democratic primary for Florida governor.
Why Buttigieg? “I graduated from Notre Dame a year before Pete was elected mayor of South Bend and paid close attention to the progress he helped usher in to his hometown. Having worked for other municipal leaders ... I’ve seen firsthand how that experience can translate ... [to] the changes we need to see at the national level.”
If your candidate weren’t in the race, you’d be working for: Helen Gym.
Something you miss about Philly? “My fiancée, Jane. Gritty. And happy hour at Oscar’s.”
Most memorable campaign moment? “On my first trip with Mayor Pete, we had a town hall where we were expecting about 300 people, but roughly 600 showed up. One was a young girl about 12 years old who asked Pete how to deal with bullying. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”
Connection to the Philly region: Raised in Burlington City; Drexel University graduate.
Political experience: Worked on 2014 gubernatorial bids for Katie McGinty and Tom Wolf; finance director for Clinton’s Pennsylvania campaign and Wolf’s 2018 reelection campaign.
Advice on winning Pennsylvania voters? “When you go to Pat’s, order Whiz Wit.”
If your candidate weren’t in the race, you’d be working for: Wolf, to build Democratic infrastructure in Pennsylvania.
Something you miss about Philly? La Colombe coffee.
Philly ties: Communications director, Jim Kenney’s 2015 mayoral campaign and for the administration, 2016-18.
Political experience: Former communications director for John Hickenlooper’s presidential campaign. Worked in senior communications roles for Randy Bryce, a Wisconsin Democrat who ran against House Speaker Paul Ryan, and for Cynthia Nixon’s New York gubernatorial bid. Also worked on Bill de Blasio’s 2013 mayoral run and Obama’s 2012 Pennsylvania team.
Advice on how to appeal to Philly voters? Whiz wit.
Something you miss about Philly? East Passyunk.
Most memorable campaign moment? “The Walmart shooting [in El Paso] was obviously a tragic moment for the community and for the campaign, but it also strengthened our resolve to do this really important work.”
Philly ties: Grew up in Berks County.
What drew you to politics? "Most of my family were ancestral Democrats originally from Pennsylvania’s coal region, but in the early 2000s, when I was becoming more interested in politics, the agenda of the Republican Party drew me in. Standing up for America and freedom at home and abroad stuck out to me as uniquely Republican and still does to this day.”
Something you miss about Philly? “Flyers games with my Dad. The Legion of Doom was incredibly impactful on my childhood.”
Most memorable campaign moment? “The president’s kickoff rally in Orlando and the ear-ringing cheers he received are indelible in my memory.”
Philly ties: Ridley High School. Temple University, Class of 1991.
What drew you to politics? “My father was very active in local politics and was an elected official in Delaware County, so when I became a reporter, I gravitated toward political coverage. It wasn’t long before I joined the campaign side. I have always been a conservative.”
Advice on appealing to Pennsylvania voters? “President Trump’s own instincts are dead-on.” Remind state voters of an improved economy, with historically low unemployment and increasing wages.
Something you miss about Philly? Jim’s Steaks.