Tufts alumna, DNC executive director, talks Obama 2012
Published: Friday, February 18, 2011
Updated: Friday, February 18, 2011 07:02
Though the next election is still two years away, Jennifer O'Malley Dillon (LA '98) has been pegged to be President Barack Obama's deputy campaign manager after the president officially announces his re-election bid in the next few months. The Daily sat down with O'Malley Dillon to discuss politics and her career.
Matt Repka: As a Tufts alum, how did you get into the world of politics? Was it always something you were interested in doing after graduation?
Jennifer O'Malley Dillon: I would say I think I was always interested in politics. My family was pretty active locally in the Democratic Party and thought it was very important to teach us at a young age how important it was to be part of the Democratic Party. But the first formal role that I filled in politics came when I was at Tufts. I was part of the Tufts Democrats and in '96 — back in the old days — I actually went for a weekend trip with the Tufts Democrats. … We all took a bus up to New Hampshire to campaign for the Clinton/Gore campaign, and we spent the weekend and held signs and knocked on doors and made phone calls.
It was like four degrees below zero and I slept overnight in a YMCA underneath the parallel bars — there was no heat in the gym — and was able to meet President Clinton and he talked to us volunteers and thanked us. It was a pretty amazing experience, and I couldn't believe that just by volunteering I was able to meet the president … really, my interest in campaigning started at Tufts. I interned when I was there, volunteered on a governor's race and so, really, I owe a lot to Tufts in terms of getting me excited about campaign work in particular.
MR: Did your experiences here prepare you for that world? What was the transition like?
JOD: Well, I would say it did a lot. In particular, I played softball at Tufts, and I've always felt that playing sports and playing softball in college helped prepare me for the team aspect of what we do on a regular basis in particular working on campaigns. You're in a close-knit community with people mostly that are young that all believe in the same thing, a shared goal, and you have to work together. There's never enough resources, there's never enough time, and you really have to rely on people. And I really credit all the time I spent in sports: the great leaders, coaches and teammates ... who helped prepare me for lots of things, but in particular the kind of work that I did. I owe a great deal to Tufts for that as well.
MR: You've also spent time away from the campaign trail, most recently as the executive director of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). How is that job different from campaigning?
JOD: Well, it's different in that this is the longest job I've had in my life. We just cracked the two-year mark … I think that the thing about politics and political work in general is that it covers almost every aspect of different kinds of work, and I do that in campaigning and also at the DNC. It's talking to voters, it's working with community leaders and activists, it's managing a staff, it's managing volunteers, it's communicating policy and raising money. At the DNC, we're a pretty large organization; we fill a pretty important role for the Democratic Party and are able to really build a deep foundation because it exists long after campaigns come and go. And it's been really great to be a part of something that has such deep roots in what I believe in, certainly. But on the whole, there's a lot of continuity between the work that I've been doing over the last decade since I left school and what I'm doing now, and certainly those experiences helped prepare me for this job currently and certainly for the campaign moving forward.
MR: With the primaries still months away, have you begun work in your new job?
JOD: No — I am still the executive director of the DNC and there is no reelection campaign yet. The president has not declared his candidacy to run for re-election — he has a lot of work going on in his own right, so I'll continue to be running the day-to-day here at the DNC until a re-election campaign is formalized. And at that point we'll dig in 100 percent on that. But obviously, the work that we do every day is closely aligned with what the president's doing in helping support his agenda and supporting Democrats up and down the ticket. So we'll continue to do that in the coming months as well.
MR: Is there a timetable for that announcement?
JOD: The public reports have said … somewhere in the March-April timeframe. But nothing's really set in stone — again, that will be up to the president to decide when it's time to announce his candidacy. At that point, when it starts, I'll be moving to lovely Chicago, and hopefully I won't get too much of the winter.
MR: What do you predict is going to be different about the 2012 campaign compared to [the campaign in] 2008?
JOD: So much — obviously on our side, we're going to see the Republicans have a very healthy primary season that is already up and running; whereas a lot more of the spotlight in the primaries was on the Democratic side [in 2008], I think it will be more focused on the Republican side. I also think that every campaign is incredibly unique, so no matter what similar philosophies … we're going to have a lot of different priorities.
Obviously, the president is president, and that's a very different place to run from as a candidate. So it'll have a look and feel based on those different demands. And we have a different country than we had in 2008. The economy, the work that we're going to be talking about and the struggles that many Americans are still going through, will be really prevalent in what we're focused.