One of the unique pleasures of working in presidential politics is the ability to collaborate with individuals who have made their mark on the world stage or are poised to do so.

As the New Hampshire political director for then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, I had the privilege of not only working on the staff of the candidate, but also working with a number of high-profile individuals, such as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.

But the greatest pleasure was spending almost two days traveling with Ted Sorensen, the late speechwriter, counselor and personal adviser to President Kennedy. Kennedy called Sorensen his “intellectual blood bank” and Robert Kennedy remarked, “If it was difficult, Ted Sorensen was brought in.”

Sorensen was an iconic figure, a man whose intellect and import are embedded in so many words and images that form our collective consciousness of the period.

By the time our paths crossed in 2007, Sorensen was more than four decades removed from his service in the White House. He was frail, unable to walk without assistance and with limited eyesight. But his mind was undiminished and his first-person accounts of history were as humble as they were riveting.

During our travels, I recall Sorensen saying he always advised a potential presidential candidate to “consult his doctor, his banker and his wife” before deciding to pursue the office.

The simplicity of the line struck me. And the more I unpacked it, the more wisdom I found.

Running for office — presidential or otherwise — is a significant personal commitment. It demands time away from family, friends and the things and places most personally meaningful. And for all that, the outcome is never assured.

Candidacy means less sleep, greater stress, penetrating scrutiny and consequential choices. At the highest levels, it is often a test of physical endurance.

The mental and emotional rigor is no less substantial.

A candidate needs thick skin and must prepare for withering attacks ranging from justifiable policy critiques to the unfortunate politics of personal vilification and disparagement. Even the most hardened campaigners are not immune to the bitter stings of public life.

And then there are the financial barriers.

Unless candidates occupy a political office that gives them sufficient flexibility, are independently wealthy, or can exist on a spouse’s single salary, chances are they are forgoing an income while on the trail.

For many, that simply rules out the possibility of pursuing elected office. I know at least one prospective Democratic candidate for governor in 2014 who chose not to run in part because the short-term household math just didn’t work. The financial hurdles and sacrifices are steep.

The impact on spouses and family — little of it positive — are significant. Children can become pawns in the political game (as the Obama children did in a recent National Rifle Association ad), spouses become targets, and family life is dissected and publicly scrutinized. The stresses and competing demands, particularly for young families, can be punishing.

In 2008, I remember how Michelle Obama would only depart Chicago for Manchester after her daughters left for school and then insisted she be back home in time for dinner. Much to the consternation of our staff, that left only a couple of hours to put the candidate’s wildly popular wife and best surrogate to use on the ground.

For his part, candidate Obama made brief calls home as we wrapped up a day of campaigning or before boarding a late flight to the next primary battleground, but frequently it was the only time the family talked each day.

Through extraordinary effort and admirable discipline, the Obamas maintained a remarkably normal family life. But that’s not always the case. The rigors of campaigning can create deep stresses at home that degrade a candidate’s personal life and diminish his or her performance in public.

Sorensen, of course, understood all of this. But over time I came to understand that his meaning wasn’t limited to the narrow practicalities of campaigning.

Having lived through the deaths of both President Kennedy and his brother, Robert, Sorensen understood — perhaps better than most — that politics is a deeply personal endeavor with acutely human consequences.

Today, as we swerve from crisis to crisis in Washington and address deep fiscal challenges in Augusta, it’s a lesson we all would do well to remember. It won’t solve our political differences, but it could go a considerable distance to constructively addressing them.

Michael Cuzzi is a former campaign aide to President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and former Rep. Tom Allen of Maine. He manages the Portland office for VOX Global, a strategic communications and public affairs firm headquartered in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

Twitter @CuzziMJ


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