Most Significant Virginia Democratic Campaign People of the Decade

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The following are (what I believe to be) the "most significant" Virginia Democratic campaign people ("staff" or "consultant," not candidate or elected official) of the decade. In rating "significance," I looked at the number of campaigns the person served on, the level of authority/responsibility they had, the importance of the elections they competed in, and the overall scope of their work. I also noted wins and losses in the entry for each individual but didn't really rank them according to their won-loss record. In addition to my own judgment, I asked a variety of Virginia Democrats what they thought of the people on the list, who they would add or subtract, etc.

Overall, I believe there are too many factors to simplistically say "they lost, they're an idiot; they won, they're a genius." Also, it should go without saying that this list isn't comprehensive, particularly in the earlier part of the decade where my knowledge is much more limited, so if you have any suggestions of people who should be added, please say so in the comments or send me an email. Also, please note that I haven't included committee chair (e.g., the excellent Peter Rousselot, who is retiring in early January) or leading bloggers (e.g., Ben Tribbett consulted and/or worked on numerous campaigns, for instance providing major assistance to Chap Petersen in his 2007 victory over Jeannemarie Devolites Davis). I also haven't included myself (I founded Raising Kaine, drafted James Webb and worked as his netroots coordinate; also consulted to Jon Bowerbank and Judy Feder). Anyway, enjoy (or not)! :)

Mike Henry: A major presence in Virginia politics during the decade, Henry managed Steve Shannon's AG campaign in 2009 (lost), Terry McAuliffe's primary campaign for governor in 2009 (lost), Mark Warner's U.S. Senate race in 2008 (won), Hillary Clinton's Virginia primary campaign in 2008 (lost), Tim Kaine's run for governor in 2005 (won), and the Democratic Coordinated Campaign in 2001 (the year Mark Warner won the governorship and Tim Kaine won the lieutenant governorship). Henry had a rough 2008 and 2009 in terms of wins/losses, but overall played (and often won) at the highest levels of the game for longer than pretty much anyone on Democratic Virginia political campaigns during the decade. [Note: Henry earned $530,861 during the decade on a variety of campaigns (Kaine for Governor, McAuliffe for Governor, Shannon for AG, Warner for Governor, etc.).

Mo Elleithee: Another major presence in Virginia during the decade. Mo served as senior strategist on the Creigh Deeds campaign (loss), on Terry McAuliffe's primary campaign for governor (loss), and on Jody Wagner's LG general election campaign (loss) in 2009. Mo did help Jody Wagner win the Democratic nomination for LG, of course. Overall, though, 2009 wasn't the greatest year for Mo. :( On the other hand, Mo served as communications strategist to the DPVA in 2007, when Democrats won back the State Senate and picked up 4 seats in the House of Delegates. On yet another hand, Mo was a strategist for Harris Miller's losing (and super nasty) 2006 U.S. Senate campaign against Jim Webb. On yet ANOTHER hand, Mo ran the DSCC's independent expenditures campaign against George Allen in 2006. I've long run out of hands, but Mo was also Communications Director on the victorious Kaine for Governor campaign in 2005, and Press Secretary on the winning Mark Warner Governor campaign in 2001. Overall, it's hard to find anyone with more top-level Virginia campaign experience - and knowledge of state politics - than Mo Elleithee.

Mame Reiley: Chaired Brian Moran's disastrous 2009 primary campaign, but also was a top advisor/political director for Virginia's most successful politician, Mark Warner, from 2001 to 2007. In addition, Reiley consulted to Dominion Power and served on the board of MWAA (Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority). Overall, Reiley has been a major presence in Virginia politics during the decade.

James Walkinshaw: Ran Gerry Connolly's victorious congressional primary and general election campaigns in 2008, as well as Connolly's successful reelection campaign for chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in 2007. Walkinshaw also ran Andy Hurst's campaign against Tom Davis in 2006 and Bruce Roemmelt's House of Delegates campaign in 2005, which didn't manage to unseat "Sideshow Bob" Marshall. Both lost the general election but did better than expected. We'll see how it goes in Connolly's 2010 reelection race, but for now, Walkinshaw definitely looks like a rising star in Virginia politics.

Joe Abbey: Managed both Creigh Deeds' disastrous general election campaign and also his successful primary campaign in 2009. Was deputy campaign manager for Mark Warner's crushing victory over Jim Gimore in 2008, as well as campaign manager for Chap Petersen's big win over Jeannemarie Devolites Davis for State Senate in 2007. Abbey also served as field organizer for the DPVA in 2001 and managed Sen. Toddy Puller's winning campaign in 2003. A mixed bag considering the Deeds disaster, but overall successful considering the other races.

Steve Jarding: Was senior strategist on two losing Virginia campaigns - Brian Moran and Jon Bowerbank - in 2009. Also, served as senior strategist on Jim Webb's victorious 2006 U.S. Senate campaign and campaign manager for Mark Warner's winning 2001 governor's race. An important player during the decade, from beginning to end.

Elisabeth Pearson: Managed Jody Wagner's victorious primary for LG in 2009, but also her losing general election run against Bill Bolling. Managed the Coordinated Campaign in 2008 (big wins, definitely deserves kudos, especially compared to the 2009 Coordinated disaster), served in various capacities on the Coordinated from 2005 to 2008. A successful run, overall. [Note: I've heard that Pearson will be the next DPVA executive director]

Levar Stoney: Served as Deputy Finance Director/Scheduler for Creigh Deeds AG campaign (loss) in 2005, DPVA political director (mostly wins) from 2006 to 2008, and DPVA executive director (mostly wins) in 2008-2009. Unfortunately, Stoney also served as political director on the Deeds campaign (don't ask) in 2009. Overall, mostly successful except for the Deeds connection.

Pete Brodnitz, Benenson Strategy Group: Polled for Terry McAuliffe (lost the primary) and Jody Wagner (won the primary, lost the general) in 2009. Also polled for Tom Perriello in 2008 (win), the DPVA in 2007 (gained seats), Jim Webb in 2006 (win), Tim Kaine in 2005 (win), and Rick Boucher (all wins). A winning track record overall.

Steve Pazmino: Earned $614,778 from 2000 to 2009, fundraising for the Democratic Senate Caucus, the DPVA, etc.

Mitch Stewart: Ran Barack Obama's incredibly impressive 2008 Virginia campaign, the end result of which was the first Democratic presidential victory in Virginia since 1964.

Delacey Skinner: Communications director for the McAuliffe campaign in 2009 (loss). Communications director for Governor Kaine from 2006 to 2008. Press secretary on the victorious Kaine for Governor campaign in 2005.

Susan Swecker: Top advisor to Creigh Deeds' debacle in 2009, also managed Deeds' 2005 loss for Attorney General and the Kerry campaign in Virginia. As if that's not bad enough, Swecker was director of the House Democratic caucus in 2001 when we lost 14 seats. Not good. [Note: one person who reviewed this list - a fairly high-ranking member of the DPVA - commented that "Susan Swecker is an arrogant, pig-headed 'has been' who should hang it up."]

Monica Dixon: Top advisor to Mark Warner prior to the Deeds campaign debacle in 2009. Good on the Warner part, not good at all on the Deeds part.

Larry Roberts: An important behind-the-scenes player, served as Tim Kaine's campaign chair in 2005 and also as a top advisor to Governor Kaine since then.

Amy Reger: DPVA executive director from 2006 to 2008 (took over from Lindsey Reynolds). One comment I received was that "Amy Reger did a very innovative and good job during her stint as DPVA executive director, and really had the right focus on the importance of field organizing." A successful tenure overall, particularly in 2007.

Dave “Mudcat” Saunders: Worked as a senior strategist for Jim Webb in 2006 (win) and Mark Warner in 2001 (win).

Abbi Easter: Worked for Donald McEachin the entire decade, including his run for Attorney General in 2001 (McEachin won a 4-way primary in June, lost by 60%-40% to Jerry Kilgore) and his victories in 2005 and 2007 for House of Delegates and State Senate, respectively. Easter also worked on the Webb for Senate campaign, running the Metro Richmond office, and is on the DPVA state steering committee.

John Rohrbach: Internet/technical consultant for Terry McAuliffe and Jody Wagner in 2009, Mark Warner in 2008, Harris Miller in 2006, and Tim Kaine in 2005. John does excellent work, even if his candidates had a mixed win/loss record.

Jessica VandenBerg/Maverick Strategies: Consulted to Jon Bowerbank in 2009 (loss). Managed Jim Webb's winning U.S. Senate campaign in 2006.

Kristian Denny Todd/Maverick Strategies: Consulted to Jon Bowerbank (loss) in 2009, Senior Communications Strategist for Jim Webb (win) in 2006.

Geoff Garin: Worked as a pollster for the DSCC's 2006 independent expenditures campaign on behalf of Jim Webb. Also polled for Mark Warner in 2001. Two campaigns, two wins.

Matt Felan: Has earned $532,313 during the decade, fundraising for Moving Virginia Forward, Kaine for Governor, Ward Armstrong's "Strong Majority PAC," and Deeds for Governor.

GMMB Media Consultants (David Smith, Susan DiLiddo Michels, Jim Margolis): Consulted to Terry McAuliffe in 2009 (loss), Mark Warner in 2008 (win), Jim Webb in 2006 (win), and Mark Warner in 2001 (win). Also worth noting, GMMB earned $2.5 million from 2000 to 2009, one of the top "vendors" in Virginia politics.

Charlie Kelly (second from right in photo, to Matt Felan's left): Managed Phil Kellam's 2006 losing race against Rep. Thelma Drake. Ran Kaine's Moving Virginia Forward PAC beginning in 2008, taking over from Matt Felan. Prior to that, Kelly was the PAC's political director. Currently at the DNC.

David Dixon: Top consultant to Creigh Deeds in 2009 (loss). Ugh. (but also worked for Mark Warner in 2001 - good).
David Petts: Gave horrible polling advice to Creigh Deeds in 2009 (loss), but made a ton of money doing it. Ugh.
Kevin Mack: Direct mail for Creigh Deeds in 2005 (loss) and 2009 (loss). Ugh.

Dominic Gabello: Served as Brian Moran's political director in 2009. Although the campaign was a debacle, I've only heard good things about Gabello's work. Also worked for Mark Warner (2003-2006), both as "field director" for One Virginia and Northeast Political Director for the Forward Together PAC, and was Virginia YD's president from 2005 to 2007.

Matt Mansell: Ran the Democratic House caucus in 2007 (gains) and 2009 (disastrous losses), also deputy director in 2005 (gains).

Larry Byrne: Heavily involved in Leslie Byrne's (unfortunately) unsuccessful 2008 primary for Congress against Gerry Connolly. Also, served as Jim Webb's field director in 2006 (win) and advised Leslie Byrne on her 2005 near-miss run for LG against Bill Bolling.

Jessica Barba: Worked as Tom Perriello's communications director in 2008 (and also since then in his Congressional office). Did an excellent job, as did Perriello's entire team, in the upset victory over Virgil Goode.

Joe Montano, Susan Mariner, Isaac Sarver: All did great jobs as "50 State Organizers" for the DNC in 2007 and 2008. Montano also served as Creigh Deeds' NOVA political director in 2009. Mariner also was South Hampton Roads Political Director for Terry McAuliffe in 2009. Sarver also worked as field director on the Carole Pratt for Delegate campaign in 2009.

Jared Leopold: Was spokesman for Creigh Deeds in 2009, famous for appearing in a couple of disastrous post-debate press "scrum" videos. Leopold was DPVA Communications Director (where he did an excellent job) prior to the Deeds Disaster. One person who commented on this list told me, "In 2008, Jared Leopold was the Communications Director for the Coordinated Campaign, where he did a much better job than he did for Deeds in 2009."

UPDATE: Although she wasn't really a "campaign person," I probably should have had Lindsey Reynolds on this list.
Lindsey Reynolds began her career in Virginia Democratic politics in 1998, as the legislative assistant to Stanley C. Walker of Norfolk, then President pro tempore of the Virginia Senate. In 2000, she became the finance director for the Joint Democratic Caucus, and in March 2002, she joined the state party as its finance director. A year later, Reynolds was named executive director of the Democratic Party of Virginia. She served as both the executive director/fundraiser for the party and Joint Caucus fundraiser until May 2004, then continued as the executive director and fundraiser for the Party. Reynolds is a 1998 graduate of Virginia Wesleyan College, with a B.A. in political science, 1998.
Also, while we're at it, we could add Larry Framme, Kerry Donley, and Dick Cranwell on here. I'm sure I missed others as well...