Meet Eric Conrad – one of the “30 under 30” rising stars in Florida politics

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“The first time I met Eric was in 2008 while I was North Florida Field Director for the Obama campaign,” writes political consultant Jason Roth. “He was our UF Gators for Obama president and we had selected him introduce Michelle Obama to what turned out to be her largest individual event during the campaign. He was pretty nervous, but did a great job.”  

“A couple years later I hired him as my Deputy on the Perry McGriff for State Senate campaign. He was still pretty green and had an idealistic view about campaigns and politics, but over the months he learned what the difference was between an activist and an operative, and despite having very differing views, he worked very hard for a very conservative Democrat. With 2010 being what it was, we were happy with our 7.5% loss margin.” 

“He went on to run Susan Bottcher’s successful Gainesville City Commission race where they raised the bar for campaigns in Gainesville while he continued to learn the trade-craft of politics (money, mail, polling, etc.). He spent time with Kevin Cate during the 2012 session before joining the Obama campaign as Deputy Communications Director for North Florida, then got hired at FDP.”  

“There’s a lot of people who think because they knocked on a few doors, or attended some DEC meetings they know how a run a campaign. But there are very few Democratic operatives that really know how a political operation is put together, from moving money to placing a TV buy. Eric is one of them.” 

“He’s been involved in a good string of campaigns – not all of them winners, but most pretty significant. I wish he would stay in the political management and consulting side of things, but he is much more interested in the political press and communications – which tells me he’s got a lot more sense than I do.”

Here is Eric in his own words:

I am 25 years-young.

I live in a campaign limbo that has me moving a lot. I recently moved New York City from Tallahassee at the end of the legislative session but was born in Gainesville and went to the University of Florida. I’d really like to visit Colorado after the current race I am on to tour some craft breweries with my brother who moved out there recently but before the 2014 cycle begins in earnest.

I entered politics because I was the annoying and somewhat naive kid in high school that was already an activist. My dad got me out of school on Election Day in 2004 to wave signs for the Kerry campaign. I heard the stories of my grandmother who was a field organizer for the Carter campaign and later ran for Alachua County Supervisor of Elections. This was what I was taught would change things. And having become politically aware during the second Bush Administration, I saw a lot of problems that I thought needed fixing. But it wasn’t until the Obama Campaign in 2008 that I caught “the bug” and have been involved with campaigns ever since.

One principle I always put above politics is ‘family comes first’. I made the mistake early on in my career of not segmenting my time properly and I missed things, like some of my four younger brothers’ birthdays and events. Even as recently as the 2012 cycle, I was faced with the choice of skipping a family event – and nearly did – for work. That happened to be the week of the Aurora shooting which quickly reminded that no single days’ work was more important than missing what was going on in my family’s lives.

While I first became addicted to campaigns during the 2008 race, the person that really gave me my first shot was Mayor Craig Lowe of Gainesville. I was his unpaid communications director during his spring 2010 campaign and because of his race was able to get a great job for the 2010 cycle right after graduating from UF. 

I’ve already worked for/on Barack Obama for President (2008), Equality is Gainesville’s Business (2009), Emanuel Pleitez for Congress (2009), Craig Lowe for Gainesville Mayor (2010), Perry McGriff for State Senate (2010), Susan Bottcher for Gainesville City Commission (2011), Kevin Cate Communications (2012), Susan Bysiewicz for Senate (2012), Barack Obama for President (2012), the Florida Democratic Party (2013), WWD Strategies (current) and Reshma Saujani for Public Advocate of New York City (current).

When I begin a project or first work on a campaign, I look for the overarching theme. I feel like too often we get caught up in the individual tactics or micro-targeted messages at the expense of the broader narrative. People are story tellers by nature and learn best that way. Any campaign message or tactic that doesn’t stem from a broader story will never be as effective as one that tries to be a little something for everyone.

I’ve been blessed to have my parents and grandmother as my first mentors and all of them taught me different things. Some gave me organizational skills or fostered my creativity, but it all came together to make me who I am. As far as political mentors go, I came into Florida politics in what has been affectionately termed as “Obama World” with the likes of Kevin Cate, Steve Schale, and Jason Roth. While I met all of them in Obama World during the 2008 race, I was lucky that all of them had a vast amount of expertise in the state political realm as well.

The people I most admire in politics are the people who no matter how long they’ve been in the business, remember why they got involved in the first place. I’ve already met people my age that first got into politics in college and by now are already jaded or are just in it for the next title or position. Those I admire have been in it for decades and can still tell you the first issue or candidate they cared about and why it still matters to them.

One lesson I’ve already learned is that you can be the biggest political junkie in the world, but if you don’t have an identity outside of politics dinner conversations with “normal people” get boring pretty quick. In the little free time I have or in the off seasons I try to make sure I have activities and people that remind me that politics isn’t everything. That, and never fill in the bcc’s for a press release before the content. It makes for embarrassing empty emails to your press list. 

If I wasn’t working in politics, I’d be working in education.  In high school I had some amazing English and US History teachers who had a huge effect on me so I assumed that teaching was the best way to change the minds of the people that made the decisions. I started college thinking a wanted to teach AP US History or Government. It wasn’t until later I found campaigns and found what I considered a more direct route to change.

In ten years, you’ll read about me in some industry magazine if at all. I’m usually willing to be the one that gives a quote but never want to be the focus of things. To quote the West Wing, I don’t want to be the guy in the room. I want to be the guy that the guy in the room counts on. 

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.