A spot on the couch went a long way for Kilroy aide

Paul Tencher once took these words of advice from Democratic guru James Carville: Sleep on an old lady’s couch.

Tencher, Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy’s (D-Ohio) new communications director, was trying to break into politics during his senior year at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, and, through a connection from one of his professors, came into contact with Carville.

The famous bald-pated CNN commentator and former aide to President Clinton told Tencher that he could intern in his office but that he would learn more if he volunteered for a local campaign and worked his way up from there (the idea being that Tencher, at some point, would be sleeping on a stranger’s couch while volunteering).

Tencher took Carville’s words to heart. He called the New Jersey Democratic Party and offered his services on a 2002 congressional campaign.

“And I actually did sleep on someone’s pullout couch for three months,” the 28-year-old says.

Tencher’s ascent was quick. He began entering campaign data two months before he graduated from college. By graduation, he was promoted to deputy secretary and was even getting paid, though “not a lot,” he says.

“A little bit to make sure I could go to the bars at night,” Tencher says.

His candidate didn’t win that year, but the Rhode Island native still made his way to Washington after the election cycle. Republicans were in control of Congress then, and Tencher had no luck finding a job on Capitol Hill.

So he landed in one of Washington’s fine dining establishments, Vidalia, where he was a host for about seven months.

“It was great,” he says. “It was one of the best jobs I ever had.”

He recalls helping the sommelier stock the wine cellar — and occasionally getting to taste rare, top-notch wines. His memories of the restaurant’s food are also fond.

“The shrimp and grits is my favorite,” Tencher says.

Tencher returned to Rhode Island, where he eventually became Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts’s chief of staff. But he learned politics in the aggressive New Jersey style (Tencher says he has a “bulldog reputation”), and the faster-paced campaign trail was beckoning him back, as was the Rhode Island beach, where he vacationed between the lieutenant governor’s office and his next campaign stint.

Last year Tencher signed on to the Missouri congressional campaign of Judy Baker, who lost in November to Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R).

Still, he was determined to get to Washington. He came to Inauguration festivities with friends “just to have a good time,” he says, when Kilroy’s office called. He met with his potential new bosses while in town, made his case, and started the day after Barack Obama was sworn in as president.

He said this was “fun, because I went to the Youth Ball the night before. I told my boss I’d be in a little late on my first day.”

Since then, he has already been to Kilroy’s Columbus, Ohio, district and found an apartment two blocks from the Capitol.

“It’s an honor to finally be on the Hill,” he says.