Amanda Dell is an award-winning public speaker and a former Farm Queen who has known for years that she wants to make her living in politics, lobbying for farmers on Capitol Hill. But she was shocked when Carroll Commissioner Donald I. Dell, a distant cousin whom she knew mainly through hunting foxes on his land, asked her to manage his re-election campaign.
After all, she's only 18 years old.
"I didn't want any of my actions to hurt him," said the University of Maryland freshman. "I'm just a kid, and I don't know what I'm talking about."
Two months later, Donald Dell, 77, doesn't regret drafting an unusually young campaign manager.
"She's done a darn fine job," he said.
Amanda doesn't form strategy for the commissioner's campaign, but she does spend late nights hunched over the computer she bought for college, banging out text for campaign fliers or preparing hundreds of invitations for a pig roast fund-raiser. And though she's never even voted, she's capable of sounding like a seasoned spokeswoman.
"I don't necessarily agree with every single thing the commissioners do, but Donald, whether he's wrong or whether he's right, makes a decision and sticks to it," she said during a recent interview. "As long as he makes a decision, I can appreciate him."
She emerged for the interview from behind a green felt blanket hanging over a doorway off the main hall of her parents' house near Taneytown. "That's the door to my office," she said with a quick smile.
Sitting down in the living room, she explained how she became a campaign manager.
Like many children who love animals (she received a goat for her third birthday), Amanda wanted to be a veterinarian. She honed her animal handling and public relations skills in 4-H, where she entered and won awards in public speaking contests. But she felt that given her slight frame, she might have difficulty tending to her beloved cows, hogs and horses. So she decided she would sell veterinary drugs instead.
Then, she caught the political bug.
It happened during her 2000-2001 stint as Carroll County Farm Queen, when, in addition to smiling through public events, she spent days learning agricultural economics from farmers and policy makers. She learned how farmers suffer during droughts such as the one Maryland has endured the past two years.
She decided she could be their voice in the battles for federal dollars, lobbying on Capitol Hill. The Francis Scott Key High graduate will pursue that goal at College Park, where she'll major in agriculture with a focus on policy.
Compared with such ambitions, county politics seemed an aside. Amanda read the newspaper regularly and had met all three commissioners but "didn't follow things all that closely."
Then, while lunching at the youth camp where she worked this summer, she received a strange message - Commissioner Donald Dell wanted to see her. Dell, whom she considered an acquaintance, told her she'd just popped into his head while he was assembling his campaign team.
"She's an attractive person and very outgoing, so I thought she'd really be able to get the ball rolling," he said. "And I knew she was interested in politics, so I thought the experience might help her."
Though she balked at first, Amanda agreed that the experience would fit her goals. So she finished her week at camp and that Saturday sat with Dell in his living room and plotted the weeks ahead. He gave her a large stack of papers, including a list of his accomplishments and the names of likely supporters, and he told her she'd be responsible for writing any campaign materials and organizing his pig roast fund-raiser.
About a week later, Amanda held the first meeting of the campaign committee.
Fellow campaign workers offer nothing but praise.
"She's just a very nice young lady, and she's working very hard on the campaign," said John Harner, a Taneytown farmer and member of Dell's committee. "She comes up with a lot of good ideas."
Though some ideas, such as holding breakfasts at local fire halls, haven't worked out, but Harner said Amanda has kept the campaign humming.
Dell did not require that she rewrite his campaign fliers, last used in 1998, but Amanda felt they needed updating. She slogged through a 720-person mailing list and typed invitations for the pig roast. She thought about creating a Web site, but decided it would be a waste of time.
She's just put the finishing touches on the texts for radio and newspaper advertisements. She does most of the work late at night, she said, because that's when she feels most energetic. Besides, she has been spending her days taking piano lessons and preparing cows, pigs and horses to show at the county and state fairs. One of those pigs, a 265-pounder, was to be the roastee at Dell's fund-raiser last weekend. .
She's still learning some facets of the job, such as being careful when responding to criticisms of her candidate.
"I have to keep myself to the back sometimes, because I have a tendency to open my mouth," she said, though she sounded composed even when asked about Dell's political foes.
With the primary now little more than a week away, the brochures are out, the pig roast has brought in the campaign dollars and the radio ad is ready to go. Her horses, hogs and cows have had their turns at the fairs. Classes are about to start.
Amanda Dell has had quite a summer - not that she thinks it's been tough.
"It really hasn't been a big deal," she said. "I'm good at balancing my life."