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Hill Staffers Switch to Campaigning for Public Office

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Korman, a former Hill staffer, talks with Erin O’Malley at the Bethesda Metro Station while campaigning for election to the Maryland House of Delegates in District 16. His experience on the campaign trail has given him a new appreciation for his former bosses.

Marc Korman has gained a new appreciation for his old bosses.

A former staffer to ex-Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash., and Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., Korman said he understands members of Congress much better now that he is running for office himself.

“Many Hill staffers joke about their bosses’ stock answers to questions or stump speeches, but as a candidate, you start to see that you are meeting with so many different people so often, that you cannot be original every time,” said Korman, who is running for the Maryland House of Delegates in District 16, which includes portions of Friendship Heights, Bethesda, North Bethesda, Rockville and Potomac.

Korman is just one of a long list of former staffers who attempt to make the transition to elected office. According to CQ Roll Call Member Information and Research, 76 of the current House and Senate members previously served as congressional staff, though those numbers do not include state and local offices, such as the one Korman is running for.

Putting Staff Skills to Campaign Test

Not all staffing aspects translate well to the campaign trail, where being front and center can be counterintuitive to the art of staffing.

“As a staffer, particularly in a caucus room full of members, you try to keep a low profile when in a room full of elected officials. As a candidate, you’ve got to work every room you’re in like there’s no tomorrow,” said Andrew Platt, a former staffer for Rep. John B. Larson, D-Conn., who is running for the Maryland House of Delegates in District 17, which includes Rockville and Gaithersburg.

Korman and Platt both cited their understanding of policy as something voters appreciated, particularly in the D.C. region where many voters follow Congress closely.

“The policy knowledge and know-how you pick up on the Hill is often useful on the campaign trail. I think voters appreciate candidates who have tackled policy issues before, even at a different level of government or at a different scale,” Korman said.

And staffers have better expectations about what to promise voters. “A candidate who has been a staffer brings a better understanding of what you can promise on the trail and what is actually possible to get done in Washington. Having worked in Congress, you have a sense of what is realistic and what is not when laying out your ideas and vision,” said Doug Thornell, a former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee national press secretary and current senior vice president of SKDKnickerbocker, a strategic communications firm in D.C.

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