After graduating from Butte High School in 1991, Stephanie Schriock believed she could take on the world.
She's done just that, running campaigns for Democrats who have taken out Republican U.S. senators.
Schriock managed Jon Tester's narrow victory in Montana in 2006. Two years later, she took over Al Franken's campaign in Minnesota midstream and helped him win by an even slimmer margin.
Those victories burnished Schriock's reputation in national political circles as a top campaign manager.
"I think Stephanie is one of the most talented political operatives in the country," said Jim Messina, White House deputy chief of staff and formerly top aide to Montana Sen. Max Baucus.
In 2006, Schriock returned home to manage the general election campaign of Tester, a state senator and organic farmer.
"It's arguably the best career move I've ever made personally," Schriock said.
In a race that helped give Democrats the Senate majority, Tester unseated three-term Sen. Conrad Burns by 3,562 votes in 2006.
"I think we made the case that Jon Tester was going to represent the people of Montana, that he was really of Montana, who understood what working and living in this state was all about and what working, middle-class families needed," Schriock said. "And he could speak to that and does speak to that like no one I've ever worked with."
Tester then hired Schriock as his Senate chief of staff, where she helped him sort through 2,000 resumes to fill the 38 jobs on his staff.
Schriock, Tester said, brings "the Montana toughness and that Butte toughness, and she never gives up. She keeps going and going."
"Her assets are not unlike anyone else's in Montana," he added. "She works very, very hard. If she needs to work a 27-hour day, she will work a 27-hour day."
In summer 2008, Senate Democratic leaders urged Schriock to manage the campaign of Franken, the comedian and writer. She took a leave from Tester's staff.
Franken ultimately defeated Sen. Norm Coleman by only 312 votes out of just shy of three million votes cast in a disputed race not decided until a court ruling in late June.
"I think she's the only person who could have saved Franken," Messina said.
Franken said Schriock "took a very strong operation with incredibly talented people, but with her experience, really stepped it up a notch or two or three."
"She is instinctively a fabulous manager," Franken continued. "She establishes her authority immediately. It's not asserting her authority; it's establishing it. Everyone says, "OK, see, she's really smart. OK, see, she's smarter than all of us."
Schriock returned to head Tester's Senate staff in June, thankful he let her come back. Tester faces re-election in 2012.
"We want to make sure that Senator Tester keeps doing what he needs to do for the people of Montana," she said. "Anything I can do to help him in that process I'm going to do. I can't disappear again for a year."
Schriock, 36, is a tall, athletic, blonde woman with a quick laugh.
In an interview, she talked about growing up in Butte and living the life of a political nomad.
A Minnesota native, Schriock was raised in Butte, the daughter of a medical technologist father and a mother who worked for an insurance agency.
"My parents were not so politically active, but I somehow, just out of the air of the town, started so young and loved it," Schriock said.
During the early 1980s, the labor standoff between the copper miners and Atlantic Richfield, which owned, and eventually closed, the mine, shaped her political philosophy.
"We were a working class family so we were friends with a lot of the miners and knew a lot of folks who were striking," Schriock said "You literally had conversations at the dinner table of what was going to happen if they closed down the mine and was Butte going to disappear."
In high school, she made calls and put up signs for Rep. Pat Williams and Baucus.
Schriock got her first real lesson in practical politics at Butte High School. After losing races for class president three years, Schriock was elected student body president her senior year.
"I first learned a quick little rule about campaigning, which is it's always better when you can change the group of people who are voting or try to increase voter turnout," Schriock said. "Because all of a sudden, I just campaigned to the freshmen and sophomores because I couldn't win in my own class, but I had this younger group of people."
She promised Butte students "good solid leadership." And on the raging controversy of whether students could wear shorts to school, "we were very, very pro-shorts," Schriock said with a laugh.
Schriock went to Mankato State, graduating in 1995 with a public administration major and a minor in business. She received an advanced degree in political management from George Washington University.
She spent years bouncing around the country to work on campaigns in many states for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Howard Dean hired Schriock as finance director for his 2004 presidential campaign. She hired his Internet director and oversaw that operation, which revolutionized political fund raising.
Dean told her he wanted to raise $10 million. Schriock said she wouldn't take the job if they couldn't raise $30 million. They wound up bringing in $52 million.
"Those aren't Obama numbers, but they hadn't seen anything like it (before)," Schriock said. "We really pushed the envelope on a lot of those things. We were just willing to try anything."
During the stress of working on campaigns, Schriock said she hasn't been able to hike and swim as much as she would like, but has learned one lesson.
"Ten years ago, I would be up until the wee hours thinking if I didn't get it done right now, it was going to be a mess," she said. "I've learned that a little bit of sleep goes a really long ways in making good decisions."