WASHINGTON — For veterans of the presidential campaign trail, getting sick is just part of the candidate’s job description.
“Candidates, like most in high stress/high travel jobs, are constantly dealing with annoying coughs, colds, whatever,” Stuart Stevens, Mitt Romney’s campaign manager in 2012, told STAT in an email. “It’s hard to take a day or two off and rest and that just makes it worse. It just happens. To everybody.”
But campaigns try to fight it, because they view any time lost on the trail as a setback during the hectic election season. Every candidate has a body man (or woman), and one of his or her duties is making sure that the candidate is taking all possible precautions against getting sick.
Garrett Jackson was that person for Romney in 2012. He carried a bottle of hand sanitizer in his jacket pocket, he said in a phone interview, and after every rope line and every photo op, he would pull it out and insist that Romney wash his hands.
He also did his best to make sure Romney got enough sleep and ate well. But the demands placed on the candidate made that tough. Everybody wants some time with the nominee, no matter the hour, and some of the rural areas that a campaign visits aren’t teeming with food options.
“The lack of sleep was a constant concern of mine for him,” Jackson said. He worked with the candidate’s scheduler to try to get Romney back to the hotel at a reasonable hour.
Once Romney became the nominee, Jackson worked with advance staff to scout for healthier eating options — chicken and vegetables instead of the McDonald’s and candy bars that they had been living on in the early days of the campaign. He kept the campaign bus and plane stocked with Romney’s favorite foods, like peanut butter and honey sandwiches, to make sure he always had something to eat.
“Unless you’ve experienced it any way … it’s hard to really grasp how grueling it is,” Jackson said. “They are going seven days a week. They are going to event to event to event. There’s lack of sleep. There’s exposure to hundreds if not thousands of people every day.”
Despite their best efforts, Romney still had to fight off minor ailments. Stevens remembered the candidate coming down with “some throat/allergy/chest thing” (to be fair, the man is not a doctor) before he gave his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Jackson said that Romney would get a bug from time to time and need to take some medicine, though it never bothered him for more than a few days.
So it goes for every campaign and candidate. And the last thing you want to do when running for the most important job in the world is take a break.
“She is always trying to squeeze more in a day,” Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon told CNN. “She is very indefatigable in that way.”
So every campaign develops its own tricks. Dan Pfeiffer, a top aide to President Obama for nearly a decade, said that a good campaign health regimen includes lots of vitamin C and tea.
“It’s a killer job. The hours and stress are enormous,” David Axelrod, chief strategist for Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaign, said in an email. “The constant exposure to people lends itself to picking up colds and viruses. Purell, good diet, and regular exercise are a president’s best defense. The latter two are harder to come by for a candidate.”
It isn’t just candidates putting their health at risk. Multiple news outlets have reported that staff members at the Clinton campaign headquarters in Brooklyn have been getting sick in recent weeks.
“Every campaign staffer has gotten sick on every campaign,” Pfeiffer said in an email.
Jackson remembered waking up the night after Romney’s win in the Nevada primary and feeling terrible. He went to the doctor, who told him he had the flu and a sinus infection.
“Do you have a stressful job? Do you get much sleep?” he recalled the doctor asking. “Your immune system has just given out.”