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California and the West

A 23-Year-Old Takes to Politics on the Fast Track

Campaigns: Andrea Jones started out pursuing the youth vote for John McCain. Now she's managing Tom Campbell's Senate bid.

September 22, 2000|GREG KRIKORIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Andrea Jones began her 23rd birthday with a 7 a.m. breakfast at Philadelphia's Ritz-Carlton Hotel and ended it in a suite at the Republican National Convention.

In between, she was interviewed by a columnist for the Washington Post, helped organize a press conference for a new television campaign, attended an invitation-only dinner for U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and appeared on a Webcast with Rep. Asa Hutchinson, an Arkansas Republican who helped impeach President Clinton last year.

"For the convention," Jones said, "it was a pretty typical day."

Just over a year ago, fresh out of Pepperdine University, about the most ambitious thing Jones had in mind was traveling cross-country. Then a casual conversation between McCain and Jones, daughter of California Secretary of State Bill Jones, led her on a dizzying path to politics.

Last year, McCain hired her to court the youth vote in his ultimately unsuccessful campaign for president.

Now, she is campaign manager for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tom Campbell, the San Jose congressman who is challenging Democratic incumbent Dianne Feinstein.

Jones's job: Direct the day-to-day events of a campaign that is long on ideas and short on money. "I never thought I'd be doing this in a million years," she said.

Jones weighs in on near- and long-term strategies for the campaign while focusing mostly on operations. "Making sure all the trains run on time," she said.

Every day, from a small storefront office near Campbell Avenue in the Silicon Valley city of Campbell, the Campbell campaign's field operations, scheduling, policy positions and media all--in one way or another--come under her scrutiny.

Is her ascension a fluke? Or is Jones the future of politics? Both, perhaps.

"I've been in my dad's campaigns since I was 5," she said, laughing. "But does that count?"

Early last year, Jones joined McCain's campaign almost by chance. After a year at London's Huron University studying international business, she returned to California, graduated from Pepperdine and volunteered for a voter outreach program in the secretary of state's office.

She met McCain at a political fund-raiser.

"He said, 'When are you going to work for me?' " Jones recalled. "And I said, 'When are you going to hire me?' "

The next day, Jones was talking with one of McCain's top staffers about signing on. She believed McCain's message could better attract young voters with some retooling, especially on complex perennial issues, such as campaign finance reform.

"You need to package this differently for young people," Jones remembers telling Mark Salter, McCain's top aide and co-author of McCain's biography. "When my dad heard what I had done, he said, 'You said what?' He just couldn't believe I would immediately offer my own opinions like that."

But her directness had made a favorable impression. Within days, she was working on McCain's outreach efforts for young voters. Her career in politics was launched.

"I watched her go head to head with the Bush field organization, which had dozens of young people, and she fought them to a draw," said former McCain advisor Dan Schnur. "She went to college campuses and sold them on a 63-year-old man who was in Vietnam before most of these kids were born."

McCain credits Jones' "infectious enthusiasm" with helping him forge an alliance with young voters.

"I would contact these people but she would do the real closing of the deal," McCain said in an interview. "The message might have interested them. But she got them involved."

Tall, blond, blue-eyed, Jones looks every bit the farm girl from Fresno. Truth is, she spent time on her family's farm, picking cotton and riding horses, but grew up in a suburban neighborhood on the northwest side of the city.

Growing up, she said, her then-rancher father and schoolteacher mother taught her plenty about hard work and perseverance. "One thing I learned is that tenacity outweighs intelligence," she said. "You'd rather have someone get the job done than someone who is brilliant and doesn't get it done."

After high school, she left for London and quickly learned about organizing her life.

A teacher there, noticing Jones dutifully make entries in a day planner, told her she should put it aside. "He said, 'You're 18 years old and anything you can't remember to do is obviously not that important.'

"So I learned not to try and do 30 things in a day," she said. "He taught me how to prioritize."

The course of Campbell's Senate campaign is decided by committee, and Jones takes part in strategy sessions with the candidate and consultants who are one or two generations her senior and hold formidable credentials.

She coordinates field directors, works with staff on the campaign Web site, assists the media experts responsible for promoting Campbell's candidacy. Jones does all this with a dozen staffers--average age 26--who she says embody the future of politics.

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