Former Democratic foot soldiers set up camp in House Education and Labor Committee

Both Melissa Salmanowitz and Jessica Kahanek are drawing on past experiences as campaigners to settle into their new positions on the House Education and Labor Committee’s majority staff.

Before coming to the Hill, Salmanowitz, 26, helped lead the charge to excite female voters for New York Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential bid. She was the deputy director of women’s outreach.

Kahanek, 22, spent two summers campaigning for the reelection of her hometown congressman, Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas).

Salmanowitz is the committee’s new press secretary for education issues, and Kahanek covers all of the committee’s issues as its press assistant.

While Salmanowitz enjoys a return to the steadier, more predictable lifestyle of Hill work, she has many fond memories of her tenure with the Clinton campaign. Among them is the time she spent with Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio), who died in August and was one of Clinton’s top surrogates.

Salmanowitz remembers talking to Tubbs Jones at a rally in Charlotte, N.C., moments before the congresswoman took the stage to energize the throngs of Clinton supporters. “I remember she looked at me, and she said, ‘Let’s cherish this. Let’s look around and make sure that we remember this,’ ” Salmanowitz recalls.

She has other memories of working on Clinton’s campaign, such as staying in the Quality Inn in Des Moines while working for six weeks in Iowa. She put thousands of miles on her rental car during that time, driving around Clinton strategist Terry McAuliffe and other surrogates in the run-up to the caucuses.

She grew accustomed to staying in the homes of Clinton supporters while on the road. Salmanowitz would rarely leave work in time for dinner with her hosts — “Getting out at 10 was an early night,” she says — but she made an effort to wake up early so she could get to know the people she stayed with.

Salmanowitz grew up in Knoxville, Tenn. She graduated from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

As for the origin of Kahanek’s interest in politics, “I can put it to the day,” she says. She remembers a hearing in 2004 about hundreds of thousands of children who lost health insurance as a result of cuts in Texas state funding — a move she says Edwards’s opponent supported.

“That was the day I was like, ‘OK, this is when politics matters,’ ” she says.

Kahanek promptly signed up to work as an intern for Edwards’s campaign and returned to his reelection efforts in 2006. She worked for the Miami University of Ohio’s office that handles government relations during her senior year there. She also interned for Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.), an experience she calls “fabulous.”

She recalls the one day Melancon ever spoke to her harshly. He told her to “go get a hot dog,” she says. “It was free hot dog day, and I was working, and he was very adamant that I should put down what I was doing and get a hot dog.”

(Alas, she didn’t get to the event in time to pick up a free wiener.)

“He was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met,” Kahanek says.