In a job interview with Mr. Sanders in 2015, when he asked her what job she wanted, Ms. Sanders promptly replied, “national press secretary.” This was, to say the least, a bold proposition for a 25-year-old who had never before worked on a presidential campaign. Nor had she ever particularly considered herself a Bernie-style socialist. But Ms. Sanders was suffering through a 27-interview losing streak for potential jobs, so, she said, it wasn’t as if she had many options.
After graduating from Creighton University in Omaha, Ms. Sanders did some work for a Democratic political consultant in Nebraska, allowing her to gain experience in local campaigns. She moved to Washington in 2014, landing at Global Trade Watch, affiliated with the nonprofit progressive advocacy group Public Citizen, before Mr. Sanders’s campaign hired her.
“We had difficulty attracting seasoned Washington, D.C., types because people were afraid the campaign wouldn’t last long or that they would suffer retribution,” said Jeff Weaver, a top adviser to both Sanders presidential campaigns. “There were a bunch of people I talked to who would then go talk to their friends, who would talk them out of working for Bernie because they were worried it would hurt their careers.”
After Mr. Sanders’s campaign ended, Ms. Sanders made some media appearances at the 2016 Democratic National Convention before joining CNN. Her pundit gig fulfilled her childhood Donna Burns fantasy and made her a quasi-public figure at an early stage of her career. This was a stark departure from the quaint old notion that campaign staff members should stay in the background.
“Certainly, in the ’80s and ’90s, if you were staff, your name was never supposed to appear in the paper, period,” said Anita Dunn, another senior adviser to Mr. Biden’s campaign. “If you even showed up in a picture with the candidate, it was considered exceptionally bad form.”
The select few who were anointed as “celebrity operatives” — the George Stephanopoulos and Karl Rove types — were mostly men. And they had to first log significant time and win major victories.