Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Campaign Positions: Press Wrangler, Obama advance team
Campaign Turf: Every state but Alaska and Arkansas
New Washington Gig: Assistant Social Secretary
Samantha Tubman viewed the 2008 campaign from an unexpected perch—at 30,000 feet. Traveling on the campaign plane with Obama, herding the press in almost every state in the Union as well as on the senator's jaunt to Europe and the Middle East last July, “I spent a lot more time around the candidate,” she says, “and got a better sense than most … of how he’s perceived.” She also learned a lot about America: “People are incredibly different across the country,” she says. “But we want the same things—family, friends, a comfortable life, to put food on table and go to a job every day.”
The D.C.-born aide worked her first campaign event in February 2007, the day Obama announced his candidacy in Springfield, Ill. Tubman, a history major at Haverford College, had worked in a Washington law firm for almost three years before earning a master’s degree in government administration at the University of Pennsylvania. Eventually, she says, “I decided I didn’t want to be a politician, but just wanted to work for a really good one.” She started as an assistant press secretary for the re-election campaign of Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, and before long, Obama was following her around the country, as she and the rest of the campaign advance team prepped town halls, high school gyms and thousand-seat arenas for the candidate.
As a quasi-“camp counselor” for the traveling press during the general election, Tubman had to be prepared for everything from buses breaking down to media meltdowns over a shortage of power outlets. She also walked the line between handling members of the press and befriending them. She recalls one moment in Chicago when one of her co-wranglers slipped on the bus. “Literally it was me and 12 members of the press marching into the emergency room, and there she was sitting with her arm, which was by then four different colors.” Tubman is now putting her talent for handling people and situations to work in the office of Desiree Rogers, the White House social secretary, and is hopeful that other young politicos will follow her example. “We’re all real people,” she says. “Fifteen years from now, I think a lot of people will look back at this campaign and say, ‘Hey, I can pack up a suitcase and travel the country for two years,’ because a lot of people—black, white, young, old—did it.”
Read more about The Root's Talented Ten:
Covers the White House and Washington for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.