Profile: PLU Alum (’12) Eric Mattson Rides Campaign Success

MuellerPhotoBy Steven Mueller

Quietly sitting at a local coffee shop, the PLU graduate and former campaign manager appears surrounded by an aura of calm, relief, and overall satisfaction. With the way things have gone this past year, Eric Mattson, ‘12, seems to deserve it. After running a Tacoma, Wash. legislative campaign into electoral victory, Mattson now has time to reflect on how he got to this point and what comes next.

In the beginning, Mattson was just another PLU senior looking for work within his major: Political Science. Previously, he had worked on now-U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer’s 2010 campaign as a field coordinator. Meadow Johnson, Kilmer’s campaign manager, referred Mattson to City Councilman Jake Fey, who was making a bid for State Representative Pos. 1 in Washington’s 27th District.

“It really shows the value of networking and starting out early. That’s how most of this works.”

After a brief interview, Fey selected Mattson for the job as campaign manager.

“Eric had the experience and came highly recommended. I consulted with Derek Kilmer and he recommended Eric as well,” said Fey.

At first, the race was relatively uncompetitive, since the initial challenger, architect Jim Merritt, dropped out shortly on. But, in early February, City Councilwoman Lauren Walker announced her election bid, igniting competition once again. Difficulty arose as the two City Council members and Democrats fought over voters from a similar base.

“It’s like one day you are buddies, the next day it’s an all out war,” Mattson describes.

Inexperienced to such managerial powers, Mattson dealt with a hard learning curve. Having advisors and consultants at his disposal helped, but issues would pop up which Mattson would have to tackle solely based on his character.
“You never really feel like you’ve mastered everything. Even right before the election you aren’t totally sure; it’s a continuum of confidence and questioning yourself.”

As Mattson led the campaign with fervor into the primary season, many inside the district watched and noted his actions. Much of Mattson’s campaign was structured around younger members, mostly students, as leaders with specific functions, rather than coffee-bringing interns.

“It was great to participate in all aspects of the campaign and decision making, especially speech writing,” said PLU junior, Landyn Rookard. Rookard, who worked in the campaign’s communications and field operations, recognized Mattson’s political understanding.

“His knowledge of local politics gave us a set course to follow. He knows the community well and is connected in the local party.”

Off the campaign trail, Mattson’s friends and family noticed the mental stress and emotional toll the job was taking on him. “Eric’s mind never turned off and he was constantly thinking about [the election], so I had to be an emotional support for him,” Mattson’s girlfriend, Amber Myers, stated.

The primary ended in Fey beating Walker by a narrow 51 to 48 percent. Because of Washington’s Top Two primary system, Walker remained in the race until the general election. With the lead in their hands, Mattson turned up the burners. Volunteers for door-to-door canvassing and phone banking came through the office daily. Sign-waving for Jake Fey on the street corners, early morning until late evening, became a common sight in Central Tacoma.

In the end, the Fey campaign pushed well ahead of Walker’s, winning 63 to 37 percent. “At the end of the day we outworked, outfundraised, and basically eclipsed her campaign with the amount of effort we put in,” Mattson said, describing why they were able to advance by so much.

Ben Anderstone, a field coordinator for two other legislative campaigns in the 27th district, also noted Mattson’s decision making ability. “Ultimately, so much of campaign management is knowing when to panic, when to be calm, and when to combine the two. Eric was very stable and level headed.”

Where did Mattson obtain the skills and abilities to lead this campaign in the right direction? Obviously having a team of advisors, consultants, and interns helped. But, Mattson suggests that PLU’s classes, professors, and overall mission provided him with the toolkit necessary to take on this task. He mentions talking with professors in the Political Science department about helping him find a career pathway.

“The connections I had and made with internship program in the Political Science department were invaluable.”

Dr. Ann Kelleher, now retired from PLU and working for Gonzaga’s global outreach program, describes Mattson as “one of those extraordinary people who will…turn things around immediately, figure it out, and do it.” Kelleher had Mattson as a student in multiple classes and on a J-term trip last year to Northern Ireland.

“From my point of view, we try to teach a process of thinking, always considering consequences, thinking through implications, and collecting information. This helps on how to become a social scientist; it’s a process,” said Kelleher on the fundamental goals of a Political Science education. “Eric was always good at this.”

When the campaign has completely concluded, Mattson will go with Fey to the State Legislature as a legislative assistant. One concern from Fey considers the history of campaign managers not doing so well as assistants. Regardless, Fey still seems confident in Mattson.

“I think he will adapt to it. These jobs are not for everyone. If the person is doing the job well, they can seize the opportunity, and I’m hoping he will advance his career.”

For Mattson, the job comes as an opportunity to work on policy. He plans to eventually attend graduate school and specialize in policy regarding global relations. In the immediate, Mattson plans to help Fey stick with the platform he was elected on.

“The most important thing is making sure Jake is being the representative he campaigned as. Everything we did leading up until now was just the preface to the entire book.”

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