Zachary Werrell ’13 made national headlines this summer for being the campaign manager of Dave Brat, the tea-party backed underdog who upset House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., in the Republican primary this summer. Werrell majored in economics and minored in political science at Haverford.
Right after graduation, what was your first activity? Did you start a job? Did you travel somewhere? Did you head home?
Right out of college, I was on the search for a job. I applied for a number of economics/policy jobs and got nothing. I had met my future mentor at a Maryland GOP Convention, and he took it upon himself to find me work. I went to the Leadership Institute’s campaign management school in early June, and by the end of the month I was hired as Mark Berg’s campaign manager in Winchester Virginia for his House of Delegates Race.
Less than one year after graduation from Haverford, you were instrumental in unseating Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader of the United States House of Representatives. How did you get from the end of senior year to the center of the international political spotlight? Could you walk us through the time between graduation and the David Brat primary campaign?
My thesis was peripherally related to my current line of work. To be completely honest, I was not willing to put in the work for a double major, but my thesis was an econometric analysis of United States Presidential Elections, and the role that national, state and local economic conditions have on Presidential Elections. I found that the CHANGE in economic conditions (specifically unemployment) had a tremendous impact on determining how a county would vote for president. The swing counties in the swing states are instrumental in the outcomes in the Electoral College, and if you can pin down the endogenous and exogenous factors therein, you are well on your way to predicting with a high degree of certainty how a presidential race will turn out.
That, combined with my previous Virginia campaign and training made me a decent candidate for the Brat gig. My mentor, Chris Doss, suggested me for the job, and after meeting with Dave Brat, he hired me as his campaign manager. I am not sure whether my hiring had more to do with my credentials and personal characteristics or with the fact that no Republican political operative in their right mind would take on who many considered to be the most powerful Republican in the Congress.
Once I was hired with Brat, my success was simply due to constructing a simple, yet successful game plan, working extremely hard, and a lot of help from the political climate. But the most important part was the dedication from the volunteers in the district, whom I consider a second family. We went to war together, and prevailed. It was truly a special experience that I will always look back fondly upon.
You were an Economics major at Haverford. Is political campaigning what you envisioned yourself doing immediately after graduation? If not, what did you originally envision?
The reason I got involved and interested in this whole world was policy. I think our policy on both sides of the aisle is fatally flawed, and my objective before my professional career started was to alter the direction of this country. I incorrectly assumed the way for me to make the biggest impact was to work directly with WHAT policy looked like. I found, however, that changing WHO is making the policy is a much faster avenue to political change.
Do you think your experience at Haverford shaped how you ran David Brat’s campaign?
As an extreme outlier in Haverford for a number of reasons, my time there was instrumental in forming the way I make connections with people. I learned how to subtly communicate my political thoughts and plant seeds in people’s minds. I would say my time was more influential in my ability to work with people of different minds one on one, but also taught me the importance of listening. It may be hard to believe, but I am much less dogmatic in a number of areas due to my time at Haverford (policy not being one ☺).
What would you say was the key to your success on the campaign trail?
I think the largest reason for my success was knowing that I do not know everything. Being at Haverford knocked me down a few pegs, it taught me that I am not as smart as I once thought, and how little I actually knew. Because of that, I relied heavily on the input and advice from a number of professionals in the industry, but more importantly from the volunteers on the ground. I did not seek to run the campaign entirely from my mind, like a puppet master. I let local activists and trusted advisors lead me.
The other aspect of my success was working extremely hard. As many of my professors will attest, I was not the best student all the time, but when I zeroed in on a goal or question, I would work like mad to get it accomplished or answered. I worked A LOT at the Dining Center both for my work study but also to instill discipline in myself. Getting up at 6AM for 8+ hour shifts at the DC after a long night is not an easy thing to do, but forcing myself to work hard on those days helped on my 18 hour days on the campaign trail.
You’re currently working on a campaign for Pedro Celis for Congress. What’s next after Pedro for Congress?
Well, my hope is to be at the swearing in of two new members of Congress in January. To turn over 2 out of 435 members of Congress would not only be a huge personal achievement, but I believe it is what this country needs. I am a huge term limits guy, and short of term limits legislatively I hope to enact them at the ballot box.
In the longer term, I do not have a good answer. I would love to get back to Virginia and work on cleaning up the mess I made in the 7th Congressional District, but I am keeping my options open. I have dedicated my life to advancing liberty in any way that I can, and whatever opportunities open up for that end I will consider seriously.
What do you want people at Haverford to remember you for? Many students still discuss your famous “flaming golf ball incident” and your attempted coup d’état at Plenary.
I simply hope that I am remembered as a guy anyone could sit down and have a chat with. I had friends in literally every aspect of Haverford’s community, and that meant something to me – and I hope that meant something to the community. I also hope that people remember one of my favorite sayings that you have to “enjoy every sandwich.” Enjoy the little things, and have fun. Life is too short. Cut loose. But at the end of the day, make sure your priorities are straight and you get done what needs to be done.
Do you have anything else to share with The Clerk?
I just want to thank you for extending these questions, and it is still surreal answering questions like this. I am still ‘the Nard Dog’ at heart, and will always look back with great fondness on my time at the ‘Ford.
I also want to thank all my professors for putting up with me and getting my head on straight, even if it took a few months after my matriculation.
The Athletics Staff, specifically Colin Bathory and Cory Walts deserve a shout out. I was never great on the lacrosse field, but they made sure I worked as hard as anyone.
Lastly, I want to thank the Dining Center Staff for all my fond memories. From Cory, Dan, Bruce, Anthony, Pat, to the Lynns, Leon, Alfred, Houssein, Nathan, to Felix, Jeff, Tom, John, (I couldn’t fit everyone in here, but I love you all) every single one of those men and women mean so much to me, and I can’t wait to come back and have another meal of disgustingly huge proportion of chicken fingers.
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