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Dave Beattie did something strange his junior year of high school: He ran for public office.
At 18, he was elected to the Vestel, N.Y., Board of Education. And as one of the pre-eminent Democratic pollsters in the country, Beattie has won a lot of elections since.
Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) calls him "an under-the-radar secret weapon" for Democrats, and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) relies on him to poll for his battleground re-election campaign. Based in Florida but known in political circles around the country for his sound polling, work ethic and keen analytical eye, he is the president of Hamilton Campaigns, a Democratic polling and political consulting firm.
In many respects, Beattie was a regular teenager growing up in small-town New York, not far the Pennsylvania border. Described as charismatic and self-confident, he played sports and hated studying German.
His swim team, after raising half of the money necessary for upgrading the team's pool, went to the local board of education to ask for the other half. The request was rejected, and Beattie started attending meetings. Six months later, he ran for a spot on the board.
"I don't know what the heck got into him to do that," said Mike Nuckols, Beattie's best friend during high school. "I think he thought he could do it."
Nuckols, who remains close to Beattie, remembered how even in his first campaign for school board, Beattie eyed the political landscape.
"I know this is nuts, but even then, he ... was looking at the numbers, the voting register and all that stuff. I remember him really paying attention to that," Nuckols recalled. "And I think that was part of the decision: 'I think I can win this. I think I can win.'"
Beattie, now 41 and married with two kids, said it was that experience in high school that propelled him to a career at the nexus of politics and polling.
"I'm odd in that when I went to college, I knew that I wanted to be a pollster," he said. "The process of running, targeting where people lived, figuring out who to talk to ... was really what got me involved, interested in politics and what made me know I wanted to do polling."
He took lots of statistics classes during his undergraduate years at George Washington University, but instead of going to work on Capitol Hill, he went south with Robin, his then-girlfriend and current wife.