At age four, Erin Perrine marched with her siblings in a parade in downtown Rochester for their grandfather’s reelection. “We wore homemade T-shirts,” she recalls. “The front said, ‘Send My Grandpa Back to Court’ and on the back it said, ‘Re-elect Judge Gary E. Smith.’”
Jump ahead 28 years.
Today, and every day until Nov. 3, Perrine, now 32, works on another reelection campaign, the stakes of which are a bit higher than her grandfather’s race for Rochester City Court.
As director of press communications for Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, Perrine works to craft and deliver daily messages aimed at helping win the president four more years in the White House.
It’s a position that can put her in direct touch with the president. Earlier this year, he called from Air Force One to congratulate her on a TV interview; in June, she sat next to him at a campaign communication briefing at the White House.
Proximity to power, in that case, had a secondary benefit.
“That day at the White House I got a negative COVID test, which worked out perfectly because then the next day when I drove back to Rochester, I was able to see my family right away.”
In mid-September, Perrine spoke with me by Zoom from the campaign’s headquarters in Arlington, Va. Among other topics, she spoke about the pressures of her job, current issues affecting Rochester, and her personal interactions with the president. An edited version of our conversation appears below.
But first, some background.
The family of Erin Perrine (pronounced “Per-REE-knee”) has deep roots in Rochester. Her great-grandfather, William A. Winfield, was chief of police from 1954 to 1962. Her grandfather, Gary E. Smith, was a Rochester City Court judge as well as a member of the County Legislature.
Perrine grew up with three siblings. Her parents are both lawyers. For much of her childhood, the family lived in East Irondequoit, off Empire Boulevard. She attended Catholic schools, including Christ the King elementary (now Saint Kateri School), Seton Catholic School and Siena Catholic Academy, both in Brighton, and the Aquinas Institute of Rochester.
Active in the All Irondequoit Sports Association, Perrine played Little League and later did cheerleading with Pop Warner and in high school. A favorite activity, however, was horse riding at Heberle Stables in Brighton. “That’s where I spent most of my time,” she says, “at the barn with (owners) Heather and Bill Heberle. They’re still a second family and we keep in touch.”
But it was a Girl Scout leader, Pam Baker, who would be a key influence on Perrine’s career. “At a time when all I wanted to do was ride horses, Pam would say I was either going to be a lawyer or go into politics,” she recalls. Years later, when she was majoring in political science at the University of Connecticut, it was Baker who helped Perrine secure an internship at the 2008 Republican National Convention. “That was my first big political break,” Perrine says. (Pam Baker is now president and CEO of Our Lady of Mercy School for Young Women.)
In 2010, Perrine graduated from UConn and went to Wisconsin to work on the Senate campaign of Republican Ron Johnson, who defeated Democratic incumbent Russ Feingold. Next stop was Albany as press secretary for the state Assembly’s Republican conference. She worked on Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) 2012 campaign, served as press secretary for Sen. John Thune (R-SD), and then, beginning in 2017, as national press secretary for House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
Perrine was hired by the Trump reelection campaign in March 2019 and promoted to her current position this June.
It was while working on the Johnson campaign in Wisconsin that she met another campaign aide, Nicholas Perrine. They began dating and later decided to marry.
Less than a month before the wedding, tragedy visited Perrine’s family. Her brother, Eamon Eric Callanan, 28, died. Three years earlier, following a back injury at work, he had begun taking opioid painkillers. That eventually led him to heroin. He died of an overdose.
Erin and Nick Perrine were married on July 2, 2016, at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in downtown D.C. “We didn’t want to make a lot of people travel and we wanted to pay for it ourselves, so we decided, ‘Let’s just keep it small.’” Eleven people attended. “It would have been 12, but Eamon passed away.”
To honor her brother’s memory, Perrine had a piece of his shirt sewn into the hem of her wedding dress.
Many of Perrine’s family members continue to live and work in Rochester and Western New York. Her mother, Karen Smith Callanan, practices law in downtown Rochester. One sister, Christine Callanan, is an assistant district attorney in Wayne County; the other, Megan Callanan Lasaponara, is a physician specializing in pediatrics with Rochester Regional Health. Perrine’s grandfather is retired from the bench.
ROCHESTER BEACON: Erin, yours is definitely not a 9-to-5 job, am I right?
ERIN PERRINE: No, there’s nothing 9 to 5 about what I do. We’re in the homestretch, so 16- to 18-hour days are typical, sometimes longer. If tomorrow shakes out right, it might end up being a 20-hour day.
ROCHESTER BEACON: So, what does a typical day for you look like?
PERRINE: There’s no day that looks like another. Usually we have some radio hits in the morning and then we figure out where everybody is for the day: where the RNC (Republican National Committee) is, where the White House is, what big projects are coming up, what we’re pitching, what we’re pushing into media and into the press. Generally, I’ll have some TV interviews—I don’t have one today, which is why I don’t have makeup on or my hair done—and I’ll spend time prepping for them. If the president’s holding a briefing or Kayleigh (White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany) is, I’ll watch those, as well.
ROCHESTER BEACON: And you’re traveling as well?
PERRINE: Since we’re in the home stretch of the campaign, I’m on the road quite a lot. We have two buses that are on the road right now: the Team Trump on Tour bus and the Women for Trump bus. I go back and forth between the two. Last week I was in Iowa and Wisconsin on the Team Trump bus. We go to our field offices to talk to supporters and recruit volunteers across those states. We’re doing seven or eight stops a day, including local TV and radio.
ROCHESTER BEACON: Let’s talk a little about Rochester. Thinking back on growing up, are there particular influences you can point to as the roots of your Republican politics?
PERRINE: I would definitely say my grandfather. My grandpa, when he ran for city court judge in 1992, was the last Republican to my knowledge to win election in the city of Rochester.
Also, when I was growing up, I worked for a couple of years on weekends at fruit and vegetable stands at the Rochester Public Market. These were small business people just trying to earn their keep, and I always wanted them to succeed. Same with the people at Heberle Stables where I used to ride. That was also a small business. And any time the government got in the way of these small business owners, I could see it made it tough for them. So, I’ve always just believed in less government, more freedom.
ROCHESTER BEACON: Have you been following what’s going on in Rochester lately with the death of Daniel Prude, suspension of police officers, and firing of the police chief? Does that resonate in any special way for you given that your own relative was once Rochester police chief?
PERRINE: It resonates for me as a Rochesterian. It’s heartbreaking to see what’s going on in our city. I love Rochester. It’s a great place, a beautiful city, and it’s always been a great community to grow up in and to be part of. So, to see this kind of unrest and to see any politicization of it just is really disappointing because at the end of the day, there was a life lost and that’s difficult; nobody wants to see that happen. I have the utmost respect for the men and women of law enforcement: They put their lives on the line every day to protect our communities. It’s an ongoing investigation and only time will tell how it comes out.
But Rochester is too nice a place to see the kind of aggressive nature some of these people take where they’re flipping tables on people eating their dinners. And they’re doing similar things in D.C. with people eating outside where they’re demanding people raise their hand. That’s not the way to have a conversation. If you want to engage in a debate, absolutely—there’s a conversation to be had on so many fronts. But these businesses are having a hard-enough time as it is with Covid and with Cuomo’s restrictions and then to make people fearful to go out because they’re going to be accosted—that’s just not moving the political needle at all in a helpful way.
ROCHESTER BEACON: Getting back to your TV appearances, I notice that hosts often pair you with someone on the left, so you have a little debate. Any particular people you’ve especially enjoyed sparring with?
PERRINE: Not per se, but I like the more aggressive interviews when I get pushed. I’m very much a child of a lawyer and I’ve always been kind of a strong, argumentative personality and so with interviews where there’s something to bite on—to push back on and that puts me on my toes and challenges me—I feel like I do better on those than I do with softballs.
ROCHESTER BEACON: Well, this is a softball interview.
PERRINE: Yeah, but this softball interview is about me and not about the boss. When it’s about the boss I always think to myself, ‘I really want to hit the line so that if he watches it, he’ll be like, “That’s my person. That’s my team.”
ROCHESTER BEACON: Have you been harassed personally by people who oppose the president and who are angered by your support for him?
PERRINE: Yeah, absolutely—not in public, though. No one’s come up to me—I think I’m still pretty much under the radar. I’ve received threatening text messages to my personal cell phone, which means that’s probably somebody who’s known me for a while. People have also sent really hateful things over social media. Even some members of my family have said things to me that aren’t kind. Not my sisters or my mom—they’re very much on my team and always 100 percent supportive of me. But, you know, people want to try and make not only me, but anybody who supports this president, feel bad. They want us to feel like we’re not doing right by supporting President Trump, and I just don’t agree with that.
ROCHESTER BEACON: What do you think is something about the president that they misunderstand?
PERRINE: What a good man he is. Donald Trump is an incredible person. He’s kind, he’s personable. He’s good to his team. If he’s happy with what you do, he’ll call you and for 30 or 60 or 90 seconds of a day, the leader of the free world will be talking directly to someone like me saying, “That was absolutely fantastic. Well done. Keep it up!”
ROCHESTER BEACON: Have you had a call like that?
PERRINE: I did, yeah, after a TV interview.
ROCHESTER BEACON: A direct call from the president?
PERRINE: Yes. Well, the White House calls and says, “Are you available to speak to the president of the United States?” And you say, “Yes.”
It happened back in February. I had done a 5 a.m. TV hit, which is normally not something that the president would have seen, but he was in India and I was tracking his flights and kind of seeing that he had just finished Namaste Trump (the president’s Feb. 24-25 tour of India) and he was in the air on his way to the Taj Mahal. I had done what I thought was an okay interview, but I didn’t think it was a home run. They really leaned in on one topic and if I had known that that was the direction they were going, I would have prepped a little harder, but then I got a text message from our campaign manager at that time, Brad Parscale, saying the boss is really impressed, expect a phone call from him today.
ROCHESTER BEACON: Do you get home much?
PERRINE: Unfortunately, no. The last time I was home was in June for a weekend and before that was Thanksgiving. I’ll be home again around Christmas probably. But I FaceTime with my siblings and call my mom and call my grandpa.
ROCHESTER BEACON: Any favorite things to do there?
PERRINE: I love the public market in downtown Rochester. I’ll go to the Brighton market, too, because there’s a bakery there called Jonjohn’s. I love their chocolate peanut butter balls; they’re my favorite thing. I like MacGregor’s—the one on Empire Boulevard—it’s just a really easy place to get people together. I also love Wegmans. But when I’m home it’s usually only for a couple of days so we kind of just hunker down as a family and maybe cookout at somebody’s house.
ROCHESTER BEACON: You’re young and have a long career ahead. Any special goals or plans?
PERRINE: If we win, I want to continue to serve at the pleasure of the president; that would be an honor. I really love what this president has done for this country. And I want to work and live and be happy with my husband wherever that takes us.