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Elizabeth Lauten tried on a couple of majors before leaving East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., with a degree in classics.
“Ancient Latin and Greek — things you use every day!” joked Lauten, who is now press secretary for Tennessee Republican Rep. Stephen Fincher. Having spent her younger years heavily involved in her high school and college newspapers, Lauten originally had the goal to work in news in Washington. Instead, she landed her first D.C. job at the lobbying firm Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock, where she worked for three years.
“I thought, ‘This is the greatest job ever! You control politics and you get paid a lot of money for it,’” she said. But it soon became apparent, Lauten said, that she would need broader experience to expand her career in Washington. “I needed to either work for the administration or get congressional experience.”
Lauten landed a job with former Illinois Republican Rep. Joe Walsh, whom she described as a “firebrand freshman” in the 112th Congress, before heading to work with Fincher, whom she describes as “politically aware” and “sincere in his actions and his choices.”
That difference carries through in how she sees her role as press secretary in Fincher’s office — a role that’s less about flagging down the media any chance she gets and more about making the right choices for Fincher’s district, she said.
“Before it was like, ‘If I can get on Fox News, I want to get on it.’ Now it’s like, ‘I’m thoughtfully considering what I want to do,’” said Lauten, who also worked with Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign from early 2007 right through “the good, the bad and the ugly” of 2008.
After her dentist father retired from the Navy in September 2012, Lauten inspired her parents to become more actively involved in politics. “They basically became full-time [Mitt Romney] campaigners,” she said.
Lauten came to Fincher’s office having spent the previous 18 months in the private sector working with a company that builds aircraft carriers for the Navy. But “sequestration messed all that up,” she said.
Of the current state of the Republican Party, Lauten said: “The reality hit me this past year that, as a party, we’re not going to go anywhere unless people who think outside of the box are willing to share their insights with other people.”
True to her conviction, during a recent recess week, Lauten visited 40 Capitol Hill offices to share her social-media savvy and help revamp Facebook pages.
“If we’re gonna have a unified message, we need to all be on the same page and sharing ideas, not just being like, ‘I wanna be the superstar,’” she said.
Despite having what she describes as a “really good” relationship with reporters, she lamented what she calls a bias toward conservatives in the media.
“No one even tries to hide it anymore,” she said, saying coverage of the Kermit Gosnell abortion case in Pennsylvania showed such a bias. Creating a strategy to engage Fincher’s constituents from the beginning of their day is the first thing on Lauten’s agenda each morning.
“Occasionally there’s that there’s-nothing-to-talk-about-today moment, or there’s no good, safe topics,” she admitted. But most of the time, she says, it’s all action. “If you looked at my Internet browser right now, I have like 40 tabs open across the top, and that’s just how I function. I tend to be high-productivity. I get a lot done.”
And because of her ability to work quickly as a talented multitasker, “I don’t have that typical over-burdened press secretary experience,” she said.
“I feel like I’m playing in a man’s world,” she said, describing the male-dominated world of communications on Capitol Hill. “But I would like to see more women getting higher up the ranks in press.”
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