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Hill Climbers: Communications Director Has Bicameral Experience

In her eyes, Emily Kryder Spain just became a well-rounded staffer. It’s her move from the House — where she was communications director for Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) — to the Senate that inaugurates her full Washington experience.

“I’ve always been interested in working in the Senate,” said Kryder Spain, who is now in her third day as communications director for Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.). “Having served in the House for a number of years, I loved learning how bills become law. But there’s always been this mystique about the Senate. It’s a different side of the legislative process.”

The totality of Kryder Spain’s time on Capitol Hill had been with Capps. In 2006, she started as press secretary to the California lawmaker, eventually rising to communications director.

But the invitation to an informational interview at the Carper office earlier this year was too good to pass up. Kryder Spain said things just clicked between her and the Carper staff, something that should help to ease the additional responsibilities that come with the Senate.

“It’s a lot easier to let people know about issues when you have a great team,” she said. “Be it health care, energy or the census, we’re going to work on enhancing messaging through national and local media.”

The political bug bit Kryder Spain 12 years ago in Santa Barbara, Calif. Her first political experience came in 1998 when she was a high school junior volunteering for Capps in the special election. Capps would go on to replace her deceased husband, Rep. Walter Capps (D), who died of a heart attack in 1997.

After that election, Kryder Spain was fascinated by politics. She continued to volunteer in local, state and federal elections throughout the rest of high school and during college. While an undergraduate, Kryder Spain even interned for Capps in Washington.

After graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles, she kept up the campaign work. In 2004, Kryder Spain headed to Colorado to work for the Congressional campaign of Dave Thomas (D). Thomas lost that race, so she headed back California in search of work.

But the move home only made Kryder Spain restless. “I decided that I wanted to be in D.C.,” she said. “I took a chance and got on a plane in the summer of 2005 and moved out here. I didn’t have a job or even a place to live.”

After searching for employment for several weeks, Kryder Spain took a temp position with Common Cause, a nonprofit organization that advocates for government accountability and electoral reform.

Fortune smiled on Kryder Spain with that move. On the full-time press secretary’s maternity leave, Kryder Spain was elevated to press assistant.

“Doing press for them was a great way to learn,” she said. “I was thrown into the pool at the deep end and forced to swim.”

But after several months, Kryder Spain felt called to get back into Democratic politics. So she took another chance at inching closer to Capitol Hill, this time as a research intern with EMILY’s List, the political action committee that aims to elect female candidates who support abortion rights.

After only two months in the internship, Kryder Spain got her shot at Congress. She assumed press responsibilities for Capps in the spring of 2006.

“It was like a lightning strike and the job was perfect,” she said. “They took a big chance on me because I didn’t have all the experience that a lot of people bring to the press positions on the Hill.”

In the lead-up to the 2008 elections, Capps allowed Kryder Spain to break from the office for a three-month stint as press secretary for the Mark Warner (D) campaign, as he successfully ran for Senate in Virginia. Even though Kryder Spain was thrilled with the result, the experience left her with the desire to work press on a statewide level.

“You not only communicated to the entire state, but also targeted certain populations and areas,” she said.

Even with Kryder Spain’s excitement at jumping over to the Senate, the move is still a bittersweet one. “I feel a bit like I’m leaving the nest,” she said. “I had a very good stay with Rep. Capps.”

But a good run is something the staffer now hopes to extend to the Carper office. “He shares many of the same qualities that I valued in my previous boss,” Kryder Spain said in an e-mail. “Since taking this position, many people on and off the Hill, Republican and Democrat, have told me what a wonderful person Sen. Carper is and how great he is to work with.”

Beltway insiders will recognize the last part of the staffer’s name. Kryder Spain is married to Ken Spain, communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

“There’s a little group of bipartisan couples in Washington, ” she said. “We’re both campaign junkies so we bond over that.”

But the couple indirectly connected even before Washington: Both are natives of southern California and graduates of the University of California system. They also unknowingly racked up numerous campaign connections.

The two married last October. Their limited free time is mostly spent with Dale, a bipartisan miniature dachshund.

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