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My internship with Hillary taught me about what she's really like

Fine Gael councillor Noel Rock spent a year interning with Clinton in the months leading up to the last time she ran for president. Here’s what happened…

Noel Rock

LAST SUNDAY, THE worst kept secret in American politics was finally announced: Hillary Clinton is running for President.

Back in 2006, I had the honour of being selected by the Washington-Ireland Programme to take part in an internship in the Washington DC Senate office of then-Senator Hillary Clinton.

I’d be the youngest person in the office, the only Irish person in the office, and I’d be working alongside people from Yale, Harvard and the top Ivy League colleges. It was a daunting experience, to say the least.

People’s opening question when they discover I worked for Hillary is more often than not: “what was Hillary like? Is she nice?” While I can’t say I ever shared a beer with Hillary – or did shots with her - we did get to sit down and have lunch.

She drew me out a map of the best tourist spots to go in DC – “but no bars – the law is 21 here, sorry” – and she gave me a recipe for some decent cookies. All told, beyond what you hear in the media about her unquestionable competence and ability, she’s a warm, honest person.

‘A mammoth operation’

Working in such a big office, we often got the odd piece of peculiar correspondence. You were always conscious of the then-recent anthrax incidents in the US. A box of M&Ms was sent to the office one day unannounced, but had to be confiscated for a time while it was determined that they were safe to eat. Very much a different world.

The Senate office itself was a mammoth operation, but it’s on the Presidential campaign trail where things really kick into gear and the best stories are had.

In 2007, while in Iowa ahead of the primary elections, I was chatting away when someone called out: “Wow! Are you Irish?!” It was Ted Danson, who was out to canvass for Hillary, and we ended up spending the afternoon together after he and his wife Mary Steenburgen canvassed.

A few days after that, Ron Howard came to town to help the campaign, though he had a baseball cap and a beard so I didn’t recognise him at all during our ten minute chat about basketball.

I’m nearly certain that unfortunately most of the people he canvassed didn’t recognise him either, but he seemed to enjoy himself. A few weeks later I ended up at a small event where my opposite number from the Obama campaign was Scarlett Johansson: a bit of a lopsided contest, to say the least.

The one thing that came across from all these encounters – and from the entire primary process in Iowa – was how intense it was, and what a great leveller it was. While US presidential campaigns tend to be media-dominated and “top down” communications, Iowa is very Irish in some ways – a lot of it is door to door, personal interaction, individual campaigning. And it was just great craic.

Hillary’s advice on elections

I’ve met Hillary a few times since. At a reception event in DCU towards the end of 2012, she asked how I was getting on and if I’d be running for public office again (I lost my first election).

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I told her I might be and she said “the second time will be just as difficult as the first” – perhaps advice she is currently reflecting on herself ahead of what will be an incredibly long and difficult contest. All the same, there is no question that Irish people’s fascination with America and its politics continues to the present day.

If we look at Google Trends, showing us how often per capita a search is made, we see that Hillary Clinton is looked up most often in America, but Ireland comes an impressive fourth place. Bill Clinton – Ireland is the fifth most likely country to be looking him up.

Even the term “American election” puts Ireland third most likely in the world. No coincidence. Irish people genuinely seem to love talking about American politics, as I’ve discovered in the years since my experience with the Clintons.

I wouldn’t change anything about my experience with Hillary: it got me involved in politics and gave me a lot of life lessons and sent me down a very different direction than I envisaged the day I first met her, when I wanted to be a journalist.

My big hope is that, if Hillary does get the top job, it’ll inspire not just women – but people – to get involved in politics at all levels again. That’s something that, regardless of party politics, gender, age or view, I think we can all agree we’d like to see more of.

Read: The latest man to join the White House race just called Hillary “a leader from yesterday”

Read: 13 of the funniest reactions to Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid

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