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For Campaign Moms, Politics Is Child's Play

Courtesy William Moree
Martha McKenna and her daughter Nora rely on family members who live nearby to help keep their busy schedule on track.

McKenna got pregnant again and gave birth to Nora in August, less than three months before Election Day. At the time, McKenna was working on congressional races through her burgeoning firm, McKenna Pihlaja, and directing the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s independent expenditure effort, which spent more than $50 million on television ads.

Thanks to a generous parental leave policy, McKenna’s husband was able to take off work through Election Day, allowing her to return to work soon after the birth. After the elections were over, McKenna was able to slow down and spend more time with her daughter.

The Help

For many campaign moms, an engaged father, extended family and a nanny are critical to the professional equation.

Last year, Burgos moved over to run the NRCC’s IE effort and, when elections started to heat up, her husband stepped up.

“During the last two months, he was a single dad two to three nights a week,” Burgos said about her husband, Alex, the communications director for Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. Without a re-election race and with four kids of his own, Rubio was an understanding boss. Meanwhile, Burgos managed more than $64 million in spending as Republicans held the House majority.

The Burgos family also has a “nanny share,” two families sharing one caregiver who often watches the children simultaneously, which can be a cost-effective solution. “She’s one of the most important people in my life,” Burgos said of her nanny.

Both parents in politics is more often the rule than the exception. Lapp is married to media consultant John Lapp, and Democratic pollster Margie Omero is married to media consultant Julian Mulvey.

“It makes them a little more understanding,” said Republican pollster Nicole McCleskey. “On the other hand, you are competing for space.” McCleskey and her husband, media consultant Jay, live in Albuquerque, N.M. She had her son, Dillon, when she was 34 years old.

The McCleskeys have a weekly scheduling meeting to coordinate travel and figure out when they need to call in reinforcements. “My family always comes first,” McCleskey said. “I plug in baseball games and school meetings first.”

And when the 2012 elections were taking her all over the country to conduct focus groups, she tried to never be gone more than one night at a time.

Extended families can also be part of the support structure. McKenna and her husband have a graduate student niece living with them, along with lots of family in the area, and Omero’s mother regularly comes down from New Jersey to help with Lucy.

Along with a supportive husband, Lapp has a mother-in-law in Arlington, Va., who can be called on at a moment’s notice. Last fall, her parents flew in from Oregon to stay with the kids while she was at the Democratic National Convention and John was working overtime in the editing bay cutting ads for his candidates. “I don’t know how anybody does it with demanding careers without a family network of help,” Lapp said.

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