The University of Florida’s Graduate Program in Political Campaigning is a two-year program of study leading to a Master of Arts degree in political science, with a certificate attesting to the specialization in campaigning. It is designed to provide students who want a career in politics or public service with
- technical skills related to strategy formation, message development and communication, resource management, polling, and other key aspects of professional politics in the 1990s;
- an understanding of why certain campaign actions and public strategies succeed whereas others fail; and
- a sensitivity to the democratic context of American politics, and to the notion that candidates, officeholders, and their advisers have obligations to society that extend beyond the short-term goal of winning a particular election or enacting a favorable piece of legislation.
Students in the Program take a variety of classes, involving both traditional political science (topics such as public opinion, voting and elections, political participation, survey research) as well as applied politics (campaign strategy and tactics, issue advocacy), the latter being taught by experienced professional consultants and augmented by frequent guest lectures and workshops. They also may take elective courses on such topics as political communication, fundraising, speechwriting, and the policy process, and are required to complete an internship during the summer between their first and second years.
From an entering class of just two in 1985, the Political Campaigning Program today has roughly 12-15 students enrolled at any given time. Although the number of applications has risen over the years and some additional growth is anticipated in the future, it is the department’s desire that the Program remain what it has always been – a unique and highly personalized educational experience in which students receive a degree of personal attention and regular contact with instructors that they are unlikely to get at another school.
Alumni of the Program have experienced remarkable success since graduating from the University of Florida. Their ranks include, for example, U.S. Representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL, also currently chair of the Democratic National Committee) and Thomas Rooney (R-FL), state representative John Tobia (R-Melbourne Beach), David Beattie (president of Hamilton Campaigns, a full-service consulting firm with clients nationwide), Shannon McAleavey (former vice president of government relations for Disney World), David Rancourt (former deputy chief of staff to Gov. Jeb Bush and founding partner of Southern Strategy Group, a lobbying firm in Tallahassee), Jay Payne (vice president of creative services for Stevens Reed Curcio & Potholm, a leading Washington-area media consulting firm), Jon Anderson (founder and president of Mad Dog Mail, a direct mail firm with clients in several states), Kolby Peterson (director of polling for one of the major AFL-CIO unions), and many others.
The Political Campaigning Program is not an easy one, and we are looking for quality students. Those who succeed have an excellent opportunity to make the kinds of contacts that will help them to get started in their professional careers. Prospective students who have questions or want additional information should feel free to contact me directly at email@example.com
Thank you and Go Gators!
Stephen C. Craig
Director, Political Campaigning Program
Dinner at Harry’s with (most of) the Political Campaigning graduating class of 2019.
Tom Rooney is a 1996 graduate of the Political Campaigning Program, and currently serves as U.S. Representative from Florida’s 17th Congressional District. He was first elected to Congress in 2008, and serves on the House Appropriations Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Some of his thoughts about the current state of Washington politics are featured in this article that appeared in the New York Times Magazine.
David Mica, adjunct professor and Executive Director of the Florida Petroleum Council, led a seminar in state lobbying which ended with a trip to Tallahassee for the Political Campaigning students. Mr. Mica arranged for several guest speakers to address the class including: program alumna Vice President of Legislative and Regulatory Affairs Samantha Sexton, Frontline Strategies Senior Strategist Matt Mohler, and Associate Vice President of Government Relations for the University of Florida Marion Hoffman. Following the morning of captivating speakers, the class was taken on a tour of the State Capitol. To wrap up the valuable trip, the students were given an inside look into the Florida Lottery. After observing a lottery drawing, they were given a tour of the facility conducted by Chief of Staff of the Florida Lottery David Mica Jr. The biennial trip provided the students with great insight into the inner workings of Tallahassee and how lobbying operates within the state government system.
The annual Spring Reflections and Projections Workshop took place in January at the Hilton Hotel. There were two panels of noted academics, journalists, and political consultants that led a discussion on the implications of the 2018 election and forecasting what to expect in 2020. This workshop was a great source of information to those interested in the political world. Click here to see pictures from the event.
Dr. Craig and Alaska Gov. William Walker (Independent) at a reception hosted by The Centrist Project (http://www.centristproject.org/) in Washington, DC, 7/11/17.
Perhaps the most famous graduate of the Political Campaigning Program is U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who completed her degree in 1990. While many former gators have gone on to enjoy success in the political arena, she is probably the most recognizable (if controversial) figure active today. After serving in both the Florida House of Representatives and Florida Senate, she was elected to Congress in 2014. The first Jewish congresswoman ever elected from the state of Florida, she has served since 2011 as chair of the Democratic National Committee.
On March 14th, 2015, Rep. Wasserman Schultz visited her old digs in the Political Science Department at UF. In town for meetings with local Democrats and members of the Gainesville Jewish community, she took time to stop by Anderson Hall and re-connect with several of her old professors and to meet with students who are currently enrolled in the Political Campaigning Program.
The representative talked about her days as a stu-dent in the Program, and then fielded questions on a variety of topics. One student asked about candidate recruitment, which is a key responsibility for anyone who chairs one of the national party committees. Rep. Wasserman Schultz confirmed the importance of that role, especially at a time when Democrats have had mixed success in elections at all levels.
She fielded questions from the Republicans in attendance with characteristic humor and aplomb, and revealed something that the rest of the country would learn about three days later — that she will not be a candidate for Marco Rubio’s U.S. Senate seat in 2016. Many questions dealt with her experience as a student and, specifically, with how the Campaigning Program helped her to take advantage of the political opportunities that came her way. She replied that the Program had been critical in helping her land a job as legislative assistant to Florida Rep. Peter Deutsch, whose seat she later won when Deutsch decided to run for the Florida Senate. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Campaigning students were grateful to Rep. Wasserman Schultz for interrupting her busy schedule to spend time with them. Her willingness to do this (on short notice, no less), and the openness and candor of her answers to their questions, make a powerful impression. If nothing else, it demonstrated that being a graduate of the Campaigning Program is a proud tradition that can provide a channel to a successful career in the field of politics. Heck, you could even wind up in Congress someday.
Every two years, the UF Campaigning program brings together academics and political professionals for a day-long workshop discussing both the lessons learned from the previous election, and what is to come in the next election.
On January 30, 2015, members of academia, the political community, and other gathered along with students in the Political Campaigning Program, as well as several Political Science undergrads, for our biennial election workshop at the Hilton University of Florida. As always, the day began with a retrospective on the last election (emphasizing the race between Rick Scott and Charlie Crist for governor), and continued with a lively discus-sion of what we might look forward to in 2016 both nationally and here in Florida in 2016. Sharing their insights was an impressive mix of political experts.
Academics included UF professors Daniel Smith, Michael McDonald, and Michael Martinez, plus Susan MacManus from USF. These panelists were joined by political practitioners David Hill, Adam Goodman, David Beattie, Jim Kane, Jim Kitchens, Steve Schale, Scott Simpson, and Roger Austin. Also present were Adam Smith from the Tampa Bay Times and former Florida Senator Paula Dockery.
In the morning session, MacManus, Schale, Dockery, McDonald, and both Smiths shared their experiences and impressions of the midterm races, and of Scott’s narrow (and in some ways unlikely) win over Crist in the battle of the two governors. Apart from a consideration of campaign strategy, good and bad, on both sides, there was much speculation about what Crist might have done differently to produce a more favorable outcome. Panelists also dis-cussed the meaning of 2014’s low turnout, the forecast for 2016, and the lessons one might draw from the fact that a declining proportion of Florida voters cast their ballots on Election Day, opting instead for either absentee or early in-person voting.
After a break for lunch, participants and students re-convened for a discussion of the 2016 elections. It was still very early in the game, of course, but Beattie, Hill, Simpson, Goodman, McDonald, and Kane all made their best guess about who would be the presidential nominees (Clinton was a consensus choice for the Democrats, while the Republican field was judged to be wide open) and what might happen if Marco Rubio vacated his Senate seat in order to pursue the White House (not all panelists expected him to do so, especially with Jeb Bush in the race). There also was a spirited exchange between some panelists about the future of the Republican Party as the pace of demographic change picks up both in Florida and throughout the nation.
A variety of topics were covered at the workshop, providing attendees with a multiplicity of views about how things actually work in the real world of politics. Given the mix of academics and practitioners, and of Republicans and Democrats, it’s hardly surprising that not everyone was on the same page. Exchanges were always cordial, howev-er, and hearing the different perspectives undoubtedly proved to be of great value to those who attended.
To the right: Campaigning students with top Washington lobbyist and Republican strategist Charlie Black in September 2012