Sharing a cause, campaign staffers find romance

Campaign Cupids are working overtime deep into the '08 primary season.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

When Laura Capps met Bill Burton, it wasn't exactly love at first sight. As communications director for presidential hopeful John Kerry working in Iowa, she was trying to score an interview with a prominent Iowa journalist for her candidate. When she found the reporter, he was already with Mr. Burton, communications director for rival Richard Gephardt, who'd beaten her to the punch.

As rivals, the two campaign aides couldn't help running into each other. Burton, who'd spent considerable time in Iowa, introduced Ms. Capps, a fresh transplant from San Francisco, to the Des Moines social scene. Soon their friendship evolved into a romance. When Mr. Gephardt dropped out of the race, Burton joined Senator Kerry's campaign.

"We call Des Moines the new Paris," says Capps, who married Burton two years after Kerry lost the 2004 election. "There's a lot of campaign romance, because it's attractive to find somebody who believes in something the way you do and is as passionate about politics as you are."

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For young politically motivated singles, hopping aboard the campaign train is often like joining a matchmaking service. The 12-hour-plus days bring them into close contact with hordes of like-minded people all striving toward the same goal. The intensity of the work heats up emotions and forges relationships – some that last for the long run, but many more that prompt slogans like "what happens in Iowa stays in Iowa."

"When people are passionate about politics or candidates, it's just a fine line between passion of a whole other sort," says John Hlinko, founder of ActForLove.org, a dating website for liberal activists. "If you're all united in this common campaign, this common cause, the odds are pretty good that you'd be compatible."

This Valentine's Day, with candidates in both parties still duking it out deep into the primary season, campaign Cupids are working overtime.

"You meet people you like, you sort of hang out intensely, and whatever happens happens," says a campaign staffer for Sen. John Edwards's 2008 campaign until he dropped out two weeks ago.

The staffer, who asked to remain anonymous for personal reasons, says she "hung out intensely" with one man in particular, but never imagined it would turn into a serious relationship. The romance ended with Edwards's bid for the presidency, though the two are still close.

Love, not marriage?

Long-term commitments are difficult under such circumstances, she adds.

"You don't know how long people are going to be in town, you don't know how long the campaign is going to go. You hope that it goes to the end, but the fact of the matter is you just never know."

In many regards the campaign trail is like the dating scene in the first year of college, say a number of seasoned politicos. It's an opportunity for real relationships to develop but which can also have a seamier side.

"You're in a new place, you're out there on your own, [and] there's a lot of other people sharing the same experience," says Donnie Fowler, a 20-year campaign veteran. When he joined the Al Gore campaign in 1999, he says that of the 50 people in Mr. Gore's Nashville, Tenn., office, only four or five were over 30. "It's like spring break" for college students, he adds. "You do things on spring break you might not do in your normal life."

Nevertheless, taking an active role in community or political events can help even the most lovelorn singles.

"I always advocate ... that when you're trying to be socially strategic think about pursuing activities that offer continuity," says Robin Gorman Newman, a love coach who helps singles lead more successful social lives. "Getting involved with any cause that's close to your heart is a fantastic way to do that."

Difficulty of crossing party lines

Although campaign relationships seem to have an anything goes, caught-in-the-moment quality, the vast majority of campaigners say it's unlikely they'd ever get involved with someone from the opposing political party.

The 1993 marriage of Mary Matalin, deputy campaign manager for George H.W. Bush's reelection campaign, and James Carville, a consulting campaign strategist for Bill Clinton, is a rare exception. It's doubtful, for example, that supporters of Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama and GOP hopeful Mike Huckabee would see eye-to-eye on issues such as evolution and abortion.

"It's not just one issue, it's a whole worldview," explains Pepper Schwartz, professor of sociology at the University of Washington and a relationship expert at Perfectmatch.com.

Those who campaign in their hometown may have slightly better odds at finding lasting love, she adds, because they're more grounded in their surroundings and reality. "The campaign trail is pretty glamorous. It's you against the world, you changing the world, you supporting your values and seeing them flourish or at least fighting the good fight," says Dr. Schwartz. "If you're doing it in your hometown, you still have to go back to your place, and do your laundry in your laundromat, and you still have the same friends to bounce your opinions off of."

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