April 12, 2008

Dalton's Andrea Saul working on McCain campaign

When you’re working to get someone elected president of the United States of America, your mornings often begin before the sun — and most everyone — rises.

Such is the life of Dalton native Andrea Saul. As Sen. John McCain’s director of media affairs, she’s helping him seek the winning side of November’s election to call 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. home next year.

“Things are really busy, but it’s exciting,” said Saul, 26, now living in Washington, D.C. “Your days go by fast. Depending on the day, you might get here really early. The other day Sen. McCain had a ‘Good Morning, America’ interview so I had to be there at 5:15 just to make sure everything was set up. Or on a speech day I might get in at 6 a.m. just to make sure they have everything they need ahead of time.”

Saul, the daughter of Julian and Anita Saul, has been working for the McCain campaign since mid-March. Her main job is overseeing television, radio and “surrogate operations.” Her duties encompass everything from securing television time for McCain on news shows to setting up interviews with journalists to “literally having TVs on all day” to keep current with news reports. She described “surrogates” as McCain supporters who attend events or make TV or radio appearances on behalf of the campaign. Saul makes sure those people are informed about McCain’s views and gives them talking points before radio or television appearances.

Saul grew up in the Carpet Capital of the World and went to Westwood, Brookwood and City Park elementary schools before attending Girls Preparatory School in Chattanooga. After graduating high school in 2000, she moved to Nashville to attend Vanderbilt University where she majored in communication studies and Spanish. She graduated in 2004 and worked for NBC as a runner in Athens, Greece, during the Olympic games.

“I did a little bit of everything,” she said.

In December following the Olympics she moved to Washington, D.C., to work for a public affairs firm in political consulting. She stayed there for a few years, joining the McCain campaign in February 2007.

Why politics? Saul said she “kind of fell into it.”

“At the public affairs firm all of my clients had politically charged issues and I realized I was interested in it,” Saul said.

She was let go in July 2007 because the McCain campaign was low on funds. Saul went to work for the Republican National Committee but when the McCain camp asked her to return after more money came in, she jumped at the opportunity.

“It’s just an honor to work for someone whose primary objective is to serve a cause greater than your own self-interests,” Saul said. “It’s truly what Sen. McCain believes. When you’re working for someone that has such high standards for himself and others, it really is worthwhile.”

Saul spends most of her time at the McCain headquarters in Arlington, Va., just across the bridge from Washington. She doesn’t interact with McCain everyday. He was in the office last Monday and said hello to her, but Saul works more closely with him when staffing an interview. So is the John McCain people see on television the same John McCain she works for?

“I’m not sure that people always see how funny he is,” Saul said.

She pointed to his recent appearance on the “Late Show with David Letterman” earlier this month as an example of his sense of humor. After Letterman took a few jabs at McCain during his monologue, McCain walked up behind Letterman and threw a few barbs his way, leading the talk show host to remark, “Maybe a little too funny.”

Republican presidential hopefuls Mike Huckabee, Ron Paul and Mitt Romney lost steam early in the race. Since McCain became the Republican Party front-runner, media requests have poured into his office. It’s unclear, however, which Democrat will face McCain. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are currently fighting for the nod. Once that candidate is decided at the Democratic National Convention in late August, Saul expects the presidential race to take on a different tone.

“Obviously our focus will have to be one-on-one against another candidate,” Saul said. “There will be more of a direct contrast between what we’re offering vs. whoever it is on the other side and what they’re offering. I think people will see Sen. McCain really is a different kind of politician. I think you’ll see that Sen. McCain has the experience to make change.”

The political world can be messy as talk show pundits, analysts and bloggers analyze almost every aspect of a candidate. Saul said she tries not to take attacks on McCain personally.

“Sometimes it’s harder than others,” she said. “You realize that this is how things go and you just have to be above the fray. At the end of the day, you’re doing a job and you have to think about what’s best for the senator. That’s your focus.”

Saul said her future plans hinge on how the election turns out.

“Depending on who comes away with the victory in November will determine my next course, but I do suspect it will be in politics,” Saul said.

Which will probably lead to more early mornings.