Thursday, April 29, 2010

Obama State Directors on Front Lines of 2010

By Nathan L. Gonzales

The men and women who served as state directors for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign were on the front lines of one of the best-run political operations in recent history.

After Obama’s victory, more than a dozen of them took jobs in the administration. But another group couldn’t stay away from the campaign trail, and they are now at the center of the party’s efforts to retain its Congressional majorities.

“It is important that they stay engaged,” Organizing for America Deputy National Director Jeremy Bird said about the state directors.

“Folks were amazing, some of the best people I’ve ever worked with,” added Bird, who was the Maryland state director for the Obama campaign during the Democratic primary.

A comprehensive look at where the 50 general election state directors are today shows that former Obama operatives have key positions in Democratic efforts to hold control of the Senate in the November midterms. Click here for the chart of all 50 state directors.

In Connecticut, former Obama New Hampshire state director Mindy Myers was recently hired to manage state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s (D) campaign for retiring Sen. Chris Dodd’s (D) seat. Obama’s Connecticut state director, Justin Kronholm, is also working with the Blumenthal campaign as director of political operations.

In California, former Obama state director Mike Dorsey is deputy campaign manager for Sen. Barbara Boxer’s (D) re-election campaign. In 2008, Dorsey landed in Montana for the general election, where Obama lost by only 3 points.

In Washington state, Carol Albert managed Sen. Patty Murray’s (D) re-election in 2004, was Obama’s state director in 2008 and is at the helm of Murray’s campaign once again.

And in Colorado, Craig Hughes was a senior adviser to the Obama campaign in the Centennial State and is now managing appointed Sen. Michael Bennet’s (D) tough election bid this year.

Republicans will likely need to win three of those four states to get to a 51-seat majority in the next Congress.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, complete with more Obama campaign veterans, will be there to back up the campaigns in those states, if needed. DSCC field director Rob Hill was Obama’s Oregon state director before moving to Nevada as a senior adviser. (He’s also married to Jarel LaPan, who moved into the Oregon role for the Obama campaign and now works for the administration.) Jackie Bray worked in Ohio during the 2008 general election and is now at the DSCC as well.

After being deeply involved in the Obama campaign and experiencing the organization and enthusiasm firsthand, former state directors are trying to apply 2008’s successful tactics to their 2010 campaigns.

“It’s a reminder of the importance of building a true grass-roots operation,” explained Aaron Pickrell, Obama’s Ohio state director who is managing Gov. Ted Strickland’s (D) re-election bid this year.

Multiple former state directors would speak only on the condition of anonymity for fear of disrupting the rhythm and message of their tough races, but they all agreed that the Obama campaign did a fantastic job fusing the old and the new when it comes to voter contact.

“It’s important to utilize the Internet and new media, not just for communications, but as a field tool and voter contact tool,” said Pickrell, who worked with Bird and Bray in the Buckeye State. But “the most effective campaign is still knocking on doors and neighbor-to-neighbor contact.”

Multiple former state directors also agreed on the necessity of replicating the “buy-in” of the Obama campaign. “If people feel like they have ownership in the campaign, they are more likely to be involved,” Pickrell explained. Democratic campaigns nationwide are hoping to take advantage of the infrastructure from the 2008 campaign and tap in to the larger pool of potential voters and volunteers.

As the state director in Ohio, Pickrell was part of a somewhat exclusive club. Ohio was one of the 18 states targeted by the Obama campaign, and those state directors had a different set of marching orders than the rest. The other targeted states were Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Former Obama campaign operatives are also in key roles on the House side.

New Mexico state director Adrian Saenz is now chief of staff for Rep. Harry Teague, one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the country. Moving north, former Florida Campaign for Change field director Angela Botticella is running Rep. Betsy Markey’s (D) campaign in Colorado’s 4th district, also one of the most competitive races this cycle.

While some former state directors, such as Saenz and Pickrell, are using the local expertise to help individual Democrats in 2010, others are using their influence at a broader level.

Former state directors Steve Schale (Florida), Craig Schirmer (Pennsylvania) and others are involved in 2010 races as consultants instead of on official campaign staffs. Former Missouri state director Buffy Wicks (who was one of four regional state directors early in the campaign) moved from the White House Office of Public Engagement to AKPD Message and Media, senior White House adviser David Axelrod’s consulting firm.

Former Virginia state director Mitch Stewart is the head of OFA, which is essentially the Obama campaign embedded within the Democratic National Committee.

The DNC just announced that it plans to invest $50 million into races this year. A chunk of that money includes staffing, field support, data and targeting, and volunteer programs provided by OFA.

While the DNC is focused on 2010, the OFA’s purpose is to keep the president’s supporters engaged to help this year and looking ahead to his re-election.

“Whether it’s 2012 or 20 years from now, the investment we’re putting in now is helpful for the long term,” Bird said.

Tricia Miller, Daniel Newhauser, Jeremy B. White, Kristin Coyner and Zack Hale contributed to this report. This story first appeared in Roll Call on April 27, 2010 and on on April 28, 2010. 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.