Seven years ago, 20-year-old Rachael Dean entered the doors of Sen. John McCain's campaign war room just as the Arizona Republican's presidential race was getting off the ground.
Now Dean, who first started as an intern, has left her post as press secretary in McCain’s press shop to take a shot at working in the private sector. After going from tackling graveyard shifts in campaign war rooms to fending off feeding frenzies beside McCain at the 2012 Republican Convention, she starts Monday at Alexandria-based Javelin, a public relations, literary and digital agency started by two Donald Rumsfeld team alumni.
When Dean hit it off with founders Keith Urbahn and Matt Latimer, she decided to make the switch to Javelin — seeing the move as “the perfect next step.” Dean said Javelin, whose past projects include revamping Foreign Policy’s website, treats every client with careful precision. “Every client is important and every strategy for each client is different,” Dean said. “You don’t get that cookie cutter approach.”
Dean anticipates creative and strategic challenges ahead as she will for the first time work on projects not solely centered on McCain.
She joins the Javelin team as a senior communications adviser. The company has made a foray into book launching, managing media strategy for two of Rumsfeld’s books.
She recalled her first day in McCain’s office falling during the week of the campaign’s "implosion" in July 2007 — when McCain shook up staff and resources in a move that was the turning point in his quest for the GOP nomination.
Though often assigned to the graveyard shift that lasted until 2 a.m., Dean said she soon became obsessed with the campaign. During the fall semester, when balancing school and her internship, Dean became known as “the crazy McCain girl” among her classmates.
“I remember we went around the room at the end of the semester and saying who we thought would win the nomination,” Dean said. “Obviously, I said John McCain was going to win. No one else in the class thought he would.”
When it came time to return to school at the University of Pennsylvania, Dean opted instead to see the race through, even with McCain lagging behind in polls for the Republican nomination. She took the spring semester off to work as executive assistant under the campaign's top strategists, Steve Schmidt and Nicole Wallace.
After graduation, Dean saw an opening in the McCain press office and leapt at the opportunity to work once again with the Arizona senator. She soon worked her way up the ranks and was promoted to press secretary in 2011.
Dean reflected on some of her memories with McCain, which include traveling to South Carolina in 2012 and witnessing firsthand the level of admiration McCain receives from military families. Late nights — similar to the graveyard shifts in the campaign war room — continued when the team worked on immigration legislation.
One takeaway from working in the McCain office? A lesson in integrity, Dean said.
“Regardless of what position he takes, I know that it is based on what he thinks is right and regardless of what job I have, I want to maintain my integrity in doing what I think is right,” Dean said. “That’s the biggest lesson for me.”