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PoliticsPA: Profile of Mark Harris, Campaign Manager, Toomey for Senate

In this feature, we’ll profile someone working behind the scenes at one of the many campaigns throughout the state. First up, a short conversation with Mark Harris, Campaign Manager, Toomey for Senate.

Where are you from?

I’m from Mt. Lebanon outside of Pittsburgh.

Where are you located now?

I live in Mechanicsburg outside of Harrisburg.

How long have you been in politics?

Well, I’ve been volunteering on campaigns since I was in middle school. My first sort of real gig was in Pat’s 2004 race. I was the youth coordinator. It was unpaid, but essentially my first very involved situation in politics. After that I went down in the summer of ‘04 and my first paid gig was in a Senate race in Georgia for Herman Cain.

What campaigns did you work on in middle school?

This would have been in the beginning of high school, I guess. In 2000 was Santorum’s re-elect — I knocked on doors and did all that stuff. In 2002 I volunteered for Tim Murphy’s first race. Then ‘04 was when I really got involved. And really ever since then it’s been what I wanted to do.

Where’d you go to school?

I went to George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Were you a poli sci major at George Washington?

I was. The College Republicans at GW are a very big deal because most people who go to George Washington want to go for the political in. I actually lost the election for College Republican chairman by one vote, and there were over 400 votes cast. There’s actually an FEC for the College Republicans election, the Fair Election Commission, and they have alumni of College Republicans who make sure the election is well managed, so it’s a very big deal to be chairman. So it’s kind of funny how everything worked out, but I definitely enjoyed it.

Did you have a job to support yourself through college?

I actually worked for Americans for Prosperity. They’re now a big free market organization, but at the time they had just started and I was their first or second intern and I worked with some phenomenal people there, and they really gave me an opportunity to essentially become an employee at the organization after my internship ended, and I did a lot of work for them on grassroots organizing. Basically if I wasn’t in class, I was at their headquarters. That was a really formative experience. I met a lot of professionals there. I had one guy in particular, Dave Flaherty, who had been at the RNC in ‘92 and ‘94, and I heard his stories about the low-water mark in ‘92 and the high-water mark in ‘94 which, hopefully — knock on wood — is very analogous to ‘08 and 2010. I’m very close with Dave to this day and I think that meeting older professionals who had been through this business before was very important to me and helped me become the guy I am today.

I think this is a very important business and it’s a lot of fun. Every day’s different — I don’t have to work in a cubicle and I really love what I do. I think it’s a great business to be in, but I think there’s a certain amount of professionalism that’s very important, and that was instilled in me from the very beginning with some of the people I worked under and learned from. And hey, the people working on Joe Sestak’s campaign are working hard and they deal with a lot of the same trials and tribulations that we do, and we have a lot in common in that way and it’s always important to be courteous and professional when dealing with the other side. They’re not the enemy, they just have to be the opponent. I think that was a great experience for me to learn very early on and hopefully led to something I can pass on to the people who work with me.

Did you have political heroes growing up?

I volunteered for Santorum, I volunteered for Murphy and other folks, but I think the first person was actually Pat Toomey, because that was the first race I really poured my heart and soul into. My political ideology was very much shaped by Edmund Burke. I’ve read a lot of his stuff and I think he really is sort of the father of modern conservatism.

As far as political figures go, it’s cliche, but I think Ronald Regan, obviously. Both my parents were huge fans of his, so that had a big impact on me from the way other people talk about him. I don’t remember a lot about his presidency obviously, but definitely that sort of limited government philosophy was important.

What’s your current job?

I’m the campaign manager for Pat Toomey.

What’s your average day like?

To a certain extent I’m a firefighter. If something gets to my desk it means something’s gone wrong. I spend a lot of my time fundraising as well as budget stuff, sort of the nitty gritty operations and details of the campaign.

I’m also sort of a liaison to other campaigns, congressional campaigns and the Corbett campaign and the National Republican Senate Committee and the RNC or the state party. So I spend a lot of time either in meetings or on phone calls and making sure that all the trains are running on time.

What do you like most about it?

I love that I get to work for someone I believe in and am passionate for. I get to be paid for something that I’d want to do for free. It’s been a phenomenal experience, a great life experience. We have a great staff and I love working with all of them and this has been a phenomenal opportunity — I’m very excited about it.

What’s the toughest thing you’ve had to do working in politics?

I ran for the state House in 2006 in Pittsburgh. I beat a 10-year Republican incumbent and lost in the general election. That experience was very informative. I learned not just operational stuff, but really what it’s like to be a candidate. And knowing what it’s like to be a candidate I think has made me a better manager.

That was definitely the toughest thing — having to give that concession speech the night that we lost the general election. I had invested so much time working on it that I was almost happy for it to be over. I didn’t want to lose, but I was happy for it to be done and not have the everyday of making phone calls, knocking on doors. The hardest thing was seeing all my supporters who’d put in hundreds of hours and the feeling like you let them down. I think that was definitely the hardest thing that I’ve ever had to do in politics.

I love this business, I love what I do every day. But it’s a tough business. It was hard as a candidate to wake up and see yourself on network television having people say this crazy stuff about you. I think as an operative the hardest thing is really having to go out there every day and do your job even when things are bleak. In ‘08, in the Congressional race in Scranton, to go and work your heart out every day knowing that your chances of winning are not good, that’s a hard thing to do.

Do you have a dream job in politics?

Honestly this is my dream job in politics — I’m doing my dream job in politics. Six years ago I was very bitterly disappointed after Pat lost. That night I swore that that was the end of my involvement in politics. Three or four weeks later I was down working full time in Georgia and I haven’t looked back since. I think running a statewide race in Pennsylvania for a phenomenal candidate like Pat Toomey was definitely my dream job. So I guess I need to find a new dream job!

I’d like to eventually own my own firm, I don’t know when that would happen or how that would work out. I’m not a policy guy — I care about good policy being enacted, but that’s not really my thing. I love the politics, I love that side of the business. And we’ve got 30 days to go here, but I’m excited about it.

What’s the first thing you’re going to do when the election’s over?

My wife and I have already booked a trip to Saint Thomas.

Do you have any longer term plans?

No, I’ll worry about that after. We’re going to win first, then I’ll figure out what’s next. I’m going to get some more sleep and enjoy not having to drive back and forth between Harrisburg and Allentown.

Anything else to add?

I’d never get through it if it weren’t for my wife, who’s been very understanding having been in the business herself. It’s definitely helped make this process a whole lot easier and I’m very thankful for that.

By Alex Irwin
PoliticsPA Contributor

One Response

  1. January 5, 2011

    Dear Mr. Harris,

    I want to start by saying congratulations to Senator Toomey’s Victory.

    I know you have already hired your Philadelphia staff. I just wanted to let you know that you have probably made a mistake in not considering Phil Innamorato as part of that staff.

    I was one of many volunteer’s at the victory headquarter’s on 2nd Street here in Philadelphia. Phil was the victory director of the operation and he was a great insperation to everyone. Anybody who came to a rally or to headquarter’s to work the phone bank was greeted by Phil and made to feel special and appreciated. He set the goal’s high and motivated all the volunteer’s to follow suit. LEADER’S creates confidence and Phil sure did this with all the volunteer’s.

    Phil was very committed to the sucess of the Republican campain and Pat Toomey.

    By bringing Phil on board I think you will find someone who would be totally committed in helping you acheive your goals and up-coming challanges.

    Good luck to you and the Toomey staff.

    Maureen Carson

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