Virginia Notebook: The Campaign Managers
If you were running for the Democratic nomination for governor, would you rather your campaign be run by:
a.) someone who has a long track record of winning races for Virginia Democrats in general elections but has never managed a successful hard-fought primary contest?
b.) someone who has never worked in Virginia but who has a record of winning Democratic primaries?
c.) someone who has not managed a statewide campaign but is viewed as a rising star in the Virginia Democratic consulting world?
If you think you know the best answer, you might be able, as well as anyone, to predict the winner of the June 9 Democratic primary.
Although most of the focus will be on the three candidates, the actions of their campaign managers will play a significant role behind the scenes in determining the outcome in an election in which turnout is not expected to top 20 percent.
Statewide candidates rely on numerous staff members, including strategists, media consultants, pollsters and schedulers. But it's the campaign manager who oversees the budget and candidates' time, helps direct the message, develops a strategy and reaches out to activists and interest groups.
Terry McAuliffe has hired Mike Henry, a Democratic whiz kid, who is widely credited as a driving force behind the party's recent successes in Virginia. But despite his obvious talents, Henry has never managed a successful campaign in a Democratic primary.
In January, former delegate Brian Moran hired Andrew Roos to manage his campaign. Roos is making his inaugural foray into Virginia politics, but Moran said he hired him because he has exx perience in helping candidates win contested primaries.
Last year, Roos oversaw Jack Markell's successful campaign for governor in Delaware. Markell won after Roos helped him upset then-Lt. Gov. John Carney in the Democratic primary.
State Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (Bath) has hired a relative newcomer in the world of campaign management for statewide races. Although Joe Abbey has worked on numerous campaigns in Virginia, most recently serving as Sen. Mark R. Warner's deputy campaign manager last year, he is managing his first statewide campaign.
"It definitely makes you work harder," Abbey said. "You want to prove you can do this for yourself."
Abbey, 30, got his start in politics in 2001 as a field organizer for the Virginia Democratic Party. His primary focus that year was Warner's race for governor, but the party also dispatched him to help Deeds win the special election for his Senate seat.
Two years later, Abbey managed Sen. Linda T. "Toddy" Puller's campaign. Puller was running for reelection in a Fairfax district that had been redrawn by the Republican-dominated legislature to include more conservative areas. Puller easily defeated her Republican challenger.
In 2006, Abbey managed a congressional race in Ohio. His candidate, Joseph P Sulzer, finished last in the Democratic primary.
The following year, Abbey made a name for himself by managing state Sen. J. Chapman Petersen's successful campaign against incumbent Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R-Fairfax). Abbey was pitted against Devolites Davis's husband, then-U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R), and his formidable political operation. Petersen won with 55 percent of the vote.
In 2008, Abbey worked under Henry on Warner's campaign. Abbey's primary focus was implementing Warner's massive voter-outreach and organizing effort, which helped him rack up a record of number of votes for a Virginia politician.
"The Warner campaign was a good training ground for me," Abbey said. "I got to see the inner workings of a very large campaign at the statewide level."
Henry, who was Warner's campaign manager, also credits Virginia's junior senator with preparing him for his job this year in support of McAuliffe.
"I got to hone my skills a little bit more in reaching out to Democrats but also how to approach the general election," Henry said. " I think Warner put together a unique coalition, and the question is how can we replicate that" this year.
More than any other Democratic strategist, Henry is responsible for helping Democrats rebound from a string of Republican victories in the 1990s.
After getting his start by working for the Virginia House and Senate Democratic caucuses in the 1990s, Henry led the Democratic Party's coordinated campaign for Warner's gubernatorial bid in the 2001.
Henry, 40, managed Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's 2005 campaign. In that race, Henry helped define what a Democrat needs to do to win statewide in Virginia. Instead of relying on the traditional pool of Democratic voters in state elections, Kaine sought to greatly expand the electorate by targeting new voters in the state's fast-growing suburban regions.
In the process, Henry helped build a huge database for future Democratic candidates to identify and rally their supporters to the polls by organizing aggressively. Henry's efforts planted the seeds for President Obama's success in Virginia last year.
But Henry's focus in Virginia has always been on general elections. He's hasn't been as successful in other states, especially when he has had to go up against a fellow Democrat.
In 2000 in Florida, Henry managed Sen. Bill Nelson's first campaign, but Nelson faced only token opposition in the Democratic primary.
In 2002, Henry managed Mark Shriver's campaign for Congress in the 8th Congressional District in suburban Maryland. Shriver, son of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, was the favorite but lost in the Democratic primary to Rep. Chris Van Hollen.
Henry also has the distinction of being the only campaign manager in the country who has twice been beaten by Obama.
In 2004, Henry managed businessman Blair Hull's campaign for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in Illinois. Despite a well-funded effort, Hull lost the nomination to Obama, then a state senator.
In 2007, then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) hired Henry to be her deputy campaign manager. Henry made headlines as the strategist who advised Clinton to avoid the Iowa caucuses and instead concentrate on New Hampshire. Clinton didn't take the advice, and Obama won Iowa even though Clinton had invested millions of dollars in the state.
After Obama swept Maryland, the District and Virginia in the Feb. 12 Potomac Primary, Henry left the Clinton campaign. A few weeks later, he was hired by Warner.
Roos, Moran's campaign manager, said in an interview that he's not worried that his two rivals have more experience in rounding up votes in Virginia. He said this year's Democratic primary is, on a macro level, no different than campaigns for Democratic nominations in other states.
"Given it's such a small group of people, you have to be a lot more precise in targeting," said Roos, 33. "You can't pay to communicate with everyone. You need to find ways to run a campaign that really gets buy-in from activists."
In his big win last year in Delaware, Roos helped Markell run a grass-roots effort in the primary against Carney. Markell won by two percentage points even though Carney had been endorsed by the state Democratic Party's executive committee, the sitting governor, more than 40 other elected officials and more than a dozen labor unions, according to the Wilmington News Journal.
Roos also worked in the Rhode Island governor's race in 2002. He served as field director for Myrth York. York upset the sitting lieutenant governor, Sheldon Whitehouse, now a U.S. senator, in the Democratic primary.
Roos was then promoted to campaign manager for the general election, but York was defeated by Gov. Donald Carcieri (R).
Staff writer Tim Craig is leaving Richmond to cover city hall in the District. Starting next week, staff writer Anita Kumar will write the Virginia Notebook.
March 25, 2009; 5:08 PM ET
Categories: 2009 Governor's Race , Brian J. Moran , Creigh Deeds , Election 2009 , Terry McAuliffe , Tim Craig
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