Party Fever: Blazing A Campaign Trail In Florida

On paper, Naomi Berlin and Adam Smith might appear to be total opposites: she, a young East Coast Florida native, pursuing her passion for politics as a staff member of Democrat Alex Sink's campaign for governor; and he, a 30-something New Jersey transplant and experienced campaigner, actively involved in the GOP and volunteering for Republican Paula Dockery's gubernatorial campaign.

Yet as different as their backgrounds, experience and candidates' platforms may be, they -- like other young political staffers and volunteers rallying for Sink, Dockery, Bill McCollum and other candidates vying for elected posts -- share one significant similarity: a passion for politics and the process.

Young campaigners like Berlin and Smith are quickly discovering opportunities in the Tampa Bay region to reach out to other young professionals, share their respective candidate's viewpoints, and become part of the exciting, unpredictable world of political campaigning.

A Worldly Perspective

The second oldest in a family of five, Naomi Berlin says she has always been surrounded by current event discussions. "I grew up in an environment where the news was on often and we had our subscription to The New York Times," she says. She also points to her Jewish faith playing a role: Every Friday night her family participated in Shabbat, a big dinner gathering where current events were frequently the main topics of conversation.

Berlin says a life-changing experience for her occurred before she headed to college. She took a year off and traveled to Israel, where she interned at the Knesset, Israel's Parliament. It was during what she describes as a particularly heated political atmosphere and the formation of a new political party in the country.

"It was a really exciting time to show what one person could do and the power of being in a position to make decisions," Berlin says. "Going to Tufts University that Fall, I knew I wanted to study international relations and politics and really understand the nuances in this new system."

While at Tufts, Berlin interned for local political campaigns and studied abroad for a year at Oxford University in England, noting how unexpected it was to witness the 2008 presidential primary results from across the Atlantic.

"People were so fascinated with what was happening in the United States, first the potential of having a first female President, and this candidate versus someone who looked like Barack Obama,'' she says. "They understood in England what it meant to have Obama's image represent the free world. They seemed to follow it as closely as they did their own elections."

Berlin graduated and relocated to the Tampa Bay region in July 2009, joining Alex Sink's campaign for governor. She quickly moved into a senior assistant role with expanded responsibilities in the finance department . Her day-to-day activities include the preparation of memos, research and documents for Sink before community events and meetings in Central Florida.

Her biggest surprise on the campaign, she says, was seeing how young the team is – the oldest staff member is just 30 years old. A workweek can sometimes mean late nights and working seven days a week, but she finds the high-energy environment exhilarating.

"It's an ideal experience for someone who's graduating and can just pick up and move here. I feel like a sponge absorbing everything," the 23-year-old says. "It's so exciting and fast-paced."

Berlin resides in South Tampa and says that whenever she needs to wind down, she turns to yoga and Clearwater Beach for her refuge.

"I love Tampa. It has a very young population, and what's interesting is that so many people move here from across the country and bring different backgrounds," she says.

Patriotism Began In Preschool

A University of Tampa finance graduate and accountant by trade, Adam Smith says he inherited an interest in politics.

"I've had a passion for politics since as long as I can remember. My life's like the American Dream," says the 33-year-old who sees his most pivotal personal moment as his adoption as a baby in South Korea by a well-established Irish-American family of entrepreneurs. Smith can recall becoming a U.S. citizen at the age of 5. "It was so exciting to come from one country and become a member of another country, especially after seeing what my family was able to achieve," he says.

Smith began working on campaigns during junior high school in New Jersey, with his first efforts waving signs for the election of George H.W. Bush in 1988. A field trip that same year allowed him to meet Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, which he says cemented his interest in government. After Smith's move to Florida, he became much more involved with political campaigns at both state and federal levels, including the re-election campaign for George W. Bush in 2004 and Mitt Romney's bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.

Most of Smith's past campaign efforts have been as a volunteer, performing such tasks as planning advance publicity or securing candidate travel routes. He now volunteers for the Paula Dockery gubernatorial campaign, speaking to other professionals about Dockery's positions and mobilizing young voters at local college campuses.

"I join campaigns by reason of principle,'' he says. "I like a candidate who's not afraid to do what's right for the people versus what's politically expedient."

Smith has been involved for several years with the Florida Federation of Young Republicans where he presently serves as treasurer and the Tampa Bay Young Republicans, for which he's been in various roles including president and has recently resumed his previous role of director of philanthropy.

Currently, Smith is partnering with a few friends for a new business venture to provide a private security and executive protection service. He made the decision to start his own business shortly after being laid off in January.

"When things get down, you don't have time to sit there and dwell on the past. You've got to move forward," he says. "Some of America's most successful people failed two or three times. They never said, 'Darn, I've failed.' They got back up and tried again."

An avid golfer, boater and sport shooter, Smith says that he's been able to build a powerful network of friends and colleagues in the Bay area and now considers Tampa home.

"I like the fact that Tampa's big enough that there's a huge potential for opportunity, but small enough that you can become pretty well-known in an area with a hometown feel," he says.

Chris Kuhn is a freelance writer who lives and works in the 'burbs of Tampa with her husband and her assistant, a 12-year-old dachshund-Chihuahua. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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