- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2008

In between fittings for her bridal gown, Jamie Smith had her Blackberry in hand, pulling together last-minute details for reporters who would travel with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in Iowa over Thanksgiving weekend.

While most people kicked back in pajama pants with turkey sandwiches to watch football, the spunky Clinton aide left her family to return to Des Moines, where she endured complaints about the food, access to the presidential hopeful and scary motorcade drivers.

That was just par for the course.

After celebrating her 30th birthday last year at the Iowa State Fair, it was only natural that amid a long campaign, Ms. Smith skipped a honeymoon after her New Year’s Eve nuptials and drove to the Hawkeye State for the caucus.

“Jamie Smith is indefatigable, unfailingly cheerful and someone everyone would want on their team,” Mrs. Clinton told The Washington Times in an e-mail forwarded by the campaign. “I have been lucky to have her on the road with me for the last 17 months, walking up and down the aisle of the press plane, and somehow finding the time to walk down her own aisle to marriage.”

It’s no surprise that Ms. Smith had equally laudatory things to say about her boss, but what anyone who interacts with her quickly realizes is that unlike many press aides, she believes what she says to her core.

“I am beyond a true believer in Hillary Clinton,” Ms. Smith said. She was a fan even from a young age, saying she believed the former first lady “exemplified all things that I believed were right and good for this world.”

She has remained her boss’s most strident fan, affirming Monday amid reports the campaign was winding down: “I believe in every part of my being that this is possible and she can and will be the nominee.”

Advocate for the press

Ask a reporter about the do-it-all woman on the traveling press team, and the first response is usually, “She’s always smiling.”

It’s true. They also recognize her as a loyalist and someone who will bend over backward to help the press.

“She is extremely competent and is incredibly dedicated to Hillary,” said longtime Clinton reporter Michael McAuliff of the New York Daily News.

“Die-hard,” he added, while another reporter labeled her a “total breath of fresh air on the trail” and another found her to be a “fierce defender of Hillary.”

After a day of talking to reporters about the campaign message, Ms. Smith will often join the scribes for dinner, drinks or even karaoke.

She’s known for a cheery disposition through what can be grueling, sometimes 20-hour days, spending her hours working with reporters and briefing the press while doing behind-the-scenes work.

On any given day, she might be espousing campaign talking points, helping fix a reporter’s split pants or, one day, arranging rides for scribes forgotten by the campaign press bus after a New Hampshire rally - not fretting that she also was left behind in the frigid winter night.

In West Virginia recently, some reporters were especially pleased when Ms. Smith let them into the buffer zone to get a rare and up-close view of what it’s like on the rope line with the Democratic candidate.

“She’s our advocate,” said Beth Fouhy, an Associated Press political reporter who travels with the Clinton campaign. “She just loves her candidate, and the way to do that is to take good care of the people who cover her every day, and she’s fantastic at it. She really appreciates reporters’ jobs and is big advocate even if that sometimes means her candidate doesn’t come out looking so favorable.”

Ms. Fouhy said, for example, the Clinton campaign’s Virginia headquarters sometimes will schedule a conference call for when the press plane is in the air, and Ms. Smith will fight to get it changed.

Jen Psaki, Ms. Smith’s counterpart on Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign, had glowing praise for the woman who is a quasi-rival.

“Anyone who doesn’t know Jamie needs only to know that she got married in the middle of the campaign and took no time off, sleeps probably an average of four hours a night, answers questions from dawn ‘til dusk about everything from where the next meal is coming from to where the bathrooms are and still manages to do it with style and a smile on her face,” Miss Psaki said.

One way Ms. Smith keeps that smile is that she realizes each day how lucky she is. “I never thought that dreams like this would ever happen,” she said.

Worldview

Before she became a part of the close-knit group known as Hillaryland, Ms. Smith was a world traveler as communications director for former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright’s global strategy firm, the Albright Group.

She called her former boss “one of the more incredible people I will ever meet in this world,” noting the woman “changed my life forever.”

Mrs. Albright, who backs Mrs. Clinton’s presidential bid, said she found Ms. Smith “very perceptive,” with the right combination of “substantive” understanding and a keen ability to “get things done.”

“She’s what a generation of young women are supposed to be like, ready to roll up their sleeves and work on behalf of a better world,” Mrs. Albright said.

The job also helped shape Ms. Smith’s worldview and further sparked her passion for women’s rights.

In 1999, the summer after graduating from college, Ms. Smith took a group of 13- to 15-year-olds on an international two-month field trip to Thailand for an environmental awareness program.

Mr. McAuliff quipped that the Thailand trip seemed similar to her current job: “Now she’s shepherding reporters around, which is probably not much better than teenagers.”

Life on the road

Even as a college student, she was inspired by Mrs. Clinton, someone she viewed as a risk-taker who empowered women everywhere. Though stung by the “totally searing” experience of the Florida recount during the 2000 presidential election and Vice President Al Gore’s ultimate defeat, she said she found joy in Mrs. Clinton’s election to the U.S. Senate and always knew she wanted to work on Mrs. Clinton’s presidential bid should one come.

She got her chance in January 2007, helping with the former first lady’s Iowa announcement tour but straddling the Albright job as well and still traveling internationally.

Soon after, she came on full time and now lives out of a suitcase that has been around the world. Ms. Smith sees her husband, Eric Pierce, “very rarely.”

He is a fellow at think tank Center for New American Security and was a foreign policy and military adviser to Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat. He also worked at the National Security Council under President Clinton.

Traveling so much is “hard, but to be honest, millions of couples are going through a whole lot worse than me being on the presidential campaign trail for a year and a half,” Ms. Smith said.

A reporter who has traveled extensively with the campaign said she appreciates how Ms. Smith will aim to “get people excited every morning” and loves deploying the word “awesome” when the complaining inevitably starts.

“Jamie is always the person with a big smile and high energy even when she was on her last legs,” the reporter said.

Right around Super Tuesday, a bad sinus infection turned worse, and she endured a 102-degree fever for five days. She was forced to stay in the hospital overnight (with a get-well-soon call from the senator in the morning) but ended up being fine.

The brief scare helped Ms. Smith put things in perspective, and she worked even harder for the woman in whom she believes so strongly. “You have to really think about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it,” she said.

She considers the rest of the Clinton team and the reporters on the plane like family.

“They always keep me laughing, and I hope I keep them laughing, too. They are the hardest-working people in the world,” she said.

Ms. Smith can lament long days like anyone on the trail but predictably looks on the bright side.

Her favorite moments are with the voters who will never “see their name in lights” - mothers with sick children who have no health care, women fighting for their cause.

“Those are the moments that I have really been shaken by and moved by and drawn to. It’s a lot less about any specific job and more about those things,” she said. “There are moments when you stand there on the rope line with her, and I am amazed at the things people say and tell her. I’ve had to walk away because my eyes are welling up just to take a deep breath and then come back.”

Family first

Family is a huge part of her life - her dad has been spotted on the campaign trail, and she led reporters on the bus in a chorus of “Happy Birthday” for her mom on speakerphone - and she beams when talking about them and her brother and sister.

Growing up, Ms. Smith said, she always admired Mrs. Clinton from afar, but she was even more impressed with the senator as she got to know her better on the trail.

“I knew that to me she always represented taking risks and putting yourself out there and really trying,” Ms. Smith said. “I never knew how amazing and nice and funny and warm and kind and thoughtful she is, and I hope that people know that. I can’t say it enough, how amazing a person she is. I know I sound like I’m laying it all on thick but I mean it with all of my heart.”

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