I was in the third grade when I saw Abraham Lincoln assassinated. It was during the sixth-grade play at Windermere Elementary School, outside of Buffalo, New York, and I was jarred and transfixed. Until then I didn’t know anything about politics let alone Lincoln, but from that moment on I was obsessed with the American presidency: the people who occupied our country’s highest office, their strengths and weaknesses, what made some succeed while others failed, and those who surrounded them.
Thirteen years later I found myself working on Colorado senator Gary Hart’s 1984 presidential campaign. Hart had just pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Democratic Party history, beating former vice president Walter Mondale in the New Hampshire primary. As the sudden front-runner, Hart needed an advance team. A good friend recruited me, and, as a college senior with nothing better to do, I eagerly accepted.
Over the next four months, I traveled the country as a bit player, organizing events for a maverick young politician seeking to wrest the nomination from a better-known opponent. Hart would ultimately lose, but I saw how a campaign operated and the important role that close friendships can play.