From 14-Year-Old Campaigner to Capitol Hill Chief of Staff
October 16, 2012 | By Lauren Hart
Raised in Ridgeland, South Carolina, Eric Dell volunteered on political campaigns from the age of 14.
In college, Eric majored in political science at the University of South Carolina (USC), where he was chairman of USC’s College Republicans chapter and first heard about the Leadership Institute.
“I attended my first Leadership Institute Youth Leadership School in the early 1990s during my undergraduate years at the University of South Carolina,” Eric said. “I have used this knowledge in each of the political campaigns that I have been involved in since the training.”
After finishing law school at USC, Eric ran congressional campaigns for Rep. Floyd Spence in 2000 and for Rep. Joe Wilson in 2001. He got ready for those roles with a second Leadership Institute training.
“I attended the Leadership Institute’s Youth Leadership School again in July 1998 and it prepared me for my role as the deputy campaign manager for the Floyd Spence for Congress Campaign,” Eric shared.
After his campaign work, he served as the chief of staff for the South Carolina State Senate Transportation Committee.
Now, Eric is the chief of staff to Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) in Washington, D.C., and has been so for nine of the 11 years Rep. Wilson has been in office. (Eric took two years off, from 2006 to 2008, to practice real estate law in South Carolina and lobby at the federal level.)
“The Leadership Institute has been very helpful to me in my professional journey,” Eric said. “My first LI class prepared me to succeed in leadership positions in college and in my political, private sector, and government sector careers. The Leadership Institute helped me establish a basis for leading organizations, which has helped me in both my private sector and government careers.”
When Congress is in session, life for a chief of staff is go-go-go!
“I usually begin with breakfast with my boss, a Hill staffer, or someone wanting to discuss an issue before Congress,” Eric shared. “Once breakfast is done, I spend most of my day managing the office staff and making sure that my boss’s schedule is flowing smoothly. We frequently have constituents stop by unannounced and we always try to make sure they get to visit with the Congressman.”
For lunch Eric either attends working lunches with Rep. Wilson or dines with constituents visiting from South Carolina. After work, Eric attends dinners and receptions with the congressman.
“Due to my boss’s service as the chairman of the Military Personnel Subcommittee, we have many meetings with military leaders and constituencies interested in issues before the House Armed Services Committee,” Eric said.
When not in session, Eric travels back to the congressional district in South Carolina to meet with constituents and businesses, or he catches up on office work in DC.
“If you are interested in working on Capitol Hill, I would recommend that you contact your Member of Congress and either intern for them or volunteer on their campaign,” Eric shared. “If you do not agree philosophically with your Member of Congress, I urge you to become involved with other Members in your state delegation. This is an easy way to get your foot in the door. It is much easier to obtain a job on Capitol Hill if you have Hill experience on your resume, even if it is volunteering or interning.”
Aspiring Hill staffers, Eric continued, should contact chiefs of staff in their home states.
“Send them an email and contact them by phone to set up a time to meet,” Eric said. “You should offer to meet them in their office. First inquire of job openings in their office. If there’s none, I recommend asking them if they know of any openings in the delegation or anywhere else on Capitol Hill. Once you have exhausted your home state contacts, branch out to other states you have a connection to. Be professional and be willing to start at the bottom. Always remember, be nice to everyone. If you have a good work ethic and integrity, you can move up quickly on Capitol Hill.”
But before Eric started hiring Hill staffers for a congressman’s office, he took Leadership Institute training.
“I attended my first Leadership Institute Youth Leadership School in the early 1990s,” Eric shared. “I learned how to organize an effective communications plan and a youth campaign. I also learned how to effectively start and organize a student organization on a college campus. This was very helpful during my tenure as the USC College Republican chairman.”
Rep. Joe Wilson also took LI training. Rep. Wilson attended LI’s on-camera TV training in 2002 and again in 2005. Also, some of his staffers have been trained at the Institute.
Eric has volunteered as faculty for the Leadership Institute, giving back his knowledge and talents to train the next generation of conservative activists, students, and leaders.
He taught at LI’s Conservative Career Workshop in November 2008, Capitol Hill Job Seminar in June 2008, Grassroots Campaign School in March 2008, and Capitol Hill Job Seminar in November 2007.
“I describe LI as a conservative leadership training school. I encourage people to use the Leadership Institute as a way to network within conservative circles and a way to enhance their leadership skills,” Eric said. “I always recommend LI’s employment placement service to people searching for a job on Capitol Hill.”
Launch your career in “conservative circles” by registering for LI’s Conservative Career Workshop coming up November 27-28.
Or maybe you want to attend a Youth Leadership School, like Eric.
LI hosts them year-around, but one’s coming up in Arlington, VA December 1 -2. Register here now.
Please welcome Eric Dell as LI’s Graduate of the Week.
To nominate a Leadership Institute graduate or faculty member to be featured as LI's spotlight of the week, please contact LI's External Affairs Officer Lauren Hart at LaurenHart@LeadershipInstitute.org.