A political handler is a member of the team which supports a politician during election season and beyond. Political handlers are usually well versed in policy matters, and they are also skilled at projecting an electable, polished, professional image. Political handlers come in a range of flavors, and handle a wide assortment of tasks. With increasing media focus even on the early stages of political campaigns, employment in this field is exploding.
A number of skills are required in a good political handler, with diplomatic abilities being perhaps the most critical. A political handler must be able to deal with the politician he or she works for. Politicians can be very high-strung and nervous, so a political handler needs to smooth ruffled feathers, calm nerves, and provide balanced, sensible advice which a politician can agree to follow. Political handlers may also need to deal with family members, working with them to make the campaign as successful as possible.
Political handlers also cope with the media, and this is a very important job. While many politicians have press officers who specialize in liaising with the media, political handlers may be needed to make statements occasionally, and they also provide advice on how to spin stories for the media. In situations where the media follows a campaign closely, a political handler must remain very on top of things to ensure that no unwanted material slips out.
Political handlers also help politicians formulate policy, speeches, and written materials. While politicians rely on policy advisers to help them develop strong policies which support their campaigns, political handlers help organize the policy in a way which will be palatable to voters. In the case of a Presidential election, political handlers may also help tweak the ways in which policy is presented to appeal to different demographics.
Damage control is also the purview of a political handler. When compromising information about a politician comes to light, or when a situation starts to turn ugly, a political handler has to step forward to organize the situation and reduce the amount of damage. A skilled political handler can see the advantage in any situation, even a seemingly intractable one, as illustrated by numerous questionable politicians who have managed to salvage their careers with the help of handlers.
Handlers also control access to the politicians they work for, which means that they can create a very selective image of the candidate. Every interaction with someone outside the campaign is closely calculated, from a casual email to a sponsored event, with the political handler maximizing the benefits of every interaction.