Democrats considering bids for the White House in 2020 are already busy wooing the few party operatives qualified to manage a national campaign.
Nearly two full years before the Iowa caucuses, several potential candidates have already begun lining up the aides and advisers who could guide them to the White House.
Others are in competition to secure top talent, and insiders describe it as the best parlor game in Democratic circles right now.
“The first contest of the invisible primary is for political talent,” said David Wade, who served as a senior aide to then-Sen. John KerryJohn Forbes KerryThe Memo: Trump’s troubles deepen as voters see country on wrong path The continuous whipsawing of climate change policy Budowsky: United Democrats and Biden’s New Deal MORE (D-Mass.) during the 2004 presidential race. “Everyone will be competing over the same universe of operatives.”
Managing a modern presidential campaign and its thousands of employees in a dozen or more states is akin to serving as the CEO of a major corporation — but one that grows at the pace of a Google or Facebook.
“Campaigns are a start-up, and as a manager, you’re responsible for making sure it’s viable every day,” said Robby Mook, who managed Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE’s campaign in 2016.
“These campaigns are going to start small and they’re going to grow big,” said Mook. “There’s a point where you go from being a primary candidate to the nominee, and there’s an enormous growth there that can be really, really challenging.”
Some party operatives with broad experience managing big organizations are seen as top targets for 2020 contenders.
Jen O’Malley Dillon, a former executive director of the Democratic National Committee who served as deputy manager for Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaHarris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk Five ways America would take a hard left under Joe Biden Valerie Jarrett: ‘Democracy depends upon having law enforcement’ MORE’s reelection bid in 2012, is an oft-mentioned candidate to run a top-tier campaign. She was the runner-up to Mook for managing Clinton’s campaign in 2016.
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Also in the top tier are Elizabeth Pearson, who heads the Democratic Governors Association; Alixandria Lapp, who founded the House Majority PAC; Guy Cecil, a former Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) executive director who now heads Priorities USA Action, the Democratic super PAC; and Jessica Post, who runs the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.
With dozens of potential candidates considering White House bids, a new generation of top operatives are likely to be called upon as well.
Many of the next generation of potential managers are spending the 2018 cycle bolstering their résumés to demonstrate that they have experience running large organizations on their own. Running a major campaign with a huge budget is seen as a necessary precursor to a presidential campaign bid.
Several Democrats pointed to Anne Caprara, who served as executive director of Priorities USA Action. Caprara is running billionaire investor J.B. Pritzker’s race for governor of Illinois; Pritzker won the Democratic nomination on Tuesday.
Two operatives managing gubernatorial races in California are also seen as potential future presidential-level managers: Addisu Demissie, who ran Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerRand Paul introduces bill to end no-knock warrants Black lawmakers unveil bill to remove Confederate statues from Capitol Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk MORE’s (D-N.J.) campaign in 2013, now works for California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the front-runner in the race to succeed term-limited Gov. Jerry Brown. And Preston Elliott, who managed races for former Sen Kay HaganKay Ruthven HaganThe Hill’s Campaign Report: North Carolina emerges as key battleground for Senate control Tillis wins North Carolina Senate primary Coronavirus poses risks for Trump in 2020 MORE (D-N.C.) and Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterSenate confirms Trump’s watchdog for coronavirus funds Montana barrels toward blockbuster Senate fight The 10 Senate seats most likely to flip MORE (D-Mont.), is running state Treasurer John Chiang’s (D) gubernatorial bid, also in California.
Others pointed to Paul Tencher, chief of staff to Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyEngel scrambles to fend off primary challenge from left Markey touts past praise from Kennedy: ‘He does an incredible job’ Progressive Caucus co-chair endorses Kennedy in Massachusetts Senate primary MORE (D-Mass.), who ran campaigns for Sens. Gary PetersGary Charles PetersWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Hillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Democrats demand Republican leaders examine election challenges after Georgia voting chaos MORE (D-Mich.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyEx-Sen. Joe Donnelly endorses Biden Lobbying world 70 former senators propose bipartisan caucus for incumbents MORE (D-Ind.); or Patrick McHugh, who succeeded Caprara at Priorities USA Action.
Several potential candidates are likely to tap long-serving aides who have experience running major organizations.
Mindy Myers, who managed Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Joint Chiefs chairman says he regrets participating in Trump photo-op | GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op | Senate panel approves 0B defense policy bill Trump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names MORE’s (D-Mass.) successful run in 2012, now heads the DSCC, where she can build relationships with donors and activists in key states ahead of Warren’s likely bid.
Sources said Jess Fassler, chief of staff to Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Warren, Pressley introduce bill to make it a crime for police officers to deny medical care to people in custody Senate Dems press DOJ over coronavirus safety precautions in juvenile detention centers MORE (D-N.Y.), would likely move over to Gillibrand’s political operation if and when the time comes.
Simply plucking a top-tier operative to manage a race won’t be sufficient for success, several strategists said, especially if the manager and the candidate don’t mesh. Mook said the manager and the candidate have to build a deep relationship to be a success.
“They need to have a real bond with that person, because the campaign is so big and there’s so much going on that they genuinely have to delegate running the campaign to that person, and in some ways the manager needs to be an extension of the candidate, of their voice, of what kind of leader they want to be,” Mook said. “So that relationship is really important in that respect.”
Chris Lehane, who served as a senior aide to Vice President Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreCNN coronavirus town hall to feature science author David Quammen, ‘Empire’ actress Taraji Henson Top Democratic pollster advised Biden campaign to pick Warren as VP Melania Trump to appear on CNN coronavirus town hall Thursday night MORE during his 2000 presidential run, equated finding the right campaign manager with finding a starting quarterback in the NFL.
“There are a lot of people who think they can play the position but not a lot who can play it well,” he said. “There are only a number of people who have run a presidential campaign and the people who have done it very rarely come back to do it again.”
“All that said, there’s nothing that really prepares someone for the job,” Lehane said. “It’s an exercise unlike anything else you’ve ever done. And the nature of the game changes every four years.”