Jacob Daniels, a youthful lawyer from small-town Oregon, said a lot of his Republican friends were surprised when he signed on to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign earlier this year.
“Let’s just say I took a lot of heat,” Daniels said. “A lot of people of people thought I had made the wrong decision … I kind of threw caution to the wind and said, ‘Let’s do it.’”
Daniels, 31, was the campaign’s state director in the primary and has now emerged as Trump’s man in Oregon. On Thursday, he bounded out of the convention arena to announce that he’ll stay on the payroll for the fall campaign.
“We’re going to be focusing on Oregon and a lot of states that haven’t been focused on by presidential candidates in the past,” said Daniels, adding that Trump became encouraged about his prospects in Oregon when he visited Eugene before the May primary.
It’s hard to know whether the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee will put a lot of resources into the state, however. Ever since George W. Bush’s reelection campaign pulled out of Oregon a few weeks before the 2004 election, Republican nominees have given the state a wide berth.
As befits the unconventional Trump campaign, Daniels has relatively little experience in statewide campaigns — let alone a presidential race.
Richard Burke, a veteran political consultant who worked on the Trump campaign in Oregon under Daniels, said he thinks the younger man can handle it.
“What Jacob might lack in experience in dealing with a presidential campaign, he makes up in his demeanor and energy,” Burke said.
Daniels, who grew up in Creswell, has an easy grin and is quick to thank people for performing the smallest of tasks. His appetite for politics seems boundless.
After graduating from Tulane University Law School in 2010, he worked on Chris Dudley’s race for governor. In 2012, he ran for the state House but lost in the GOP primary.
The same year, he was appointed to the Creswell City Council and then won election. He worked on Jason Conger’s losing 2014 campaign for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate. Later he worked on a political action committee set up by Monica Wehby, who won the Senate nomination but lost the general election.
“I’m addicted to politics,” Daniels said. “It’s my favorite thing in the world.”
But politics hasn’t always agreed with him.
He quit the Creswell City Council after two years, citing disagreement over council affairs and expressing concern about the time it was taking from his law practice.
“I just realized I couldn’t get a lot done in government,” he said. “Maybe it was my age. I don’t know. But you know the bureaucracy and things like that burned me out so far as being an elected official is concerned.”
Instead, he said, he’s happier working behind the scenes.
He shrugged off questions about Trump’s temperament and charges that the New York businessman has fomented racial divisions.
“His temperament is fine,” said Daniels, saying that he’s met the man he calls “Mr. Trump” twice and was struck by his graciousness and willingness to listen to people.
“He is somebody who just cares about everybody,” added Daniels, arguing that Trump has a record of hiring women and minorities for top positions in his companies.
In Cleveland, Daniels is one of the Trump whips on the convention floor. He works with Oregon and three other delegations, conveying directions from the Trump campaign on matters ranging from how to vote to when to wave which signs.
Sporting a yellow fluorescent hat, Daniels ranges up and down the crowded aisles looking as if there’s no place he’d rather be.
“He’s very bright and energetic and fired up,” said Tim Nashif, a delegate from Portland and a veteran GOP activist. “He’s willing to work his butt off for the Trump campaign.”