Dem Operatives: Potential 2020 Candidates ‘Hamstrung’ by Lack of Minority Staffers

Elizabeth Warren
Elizabeth Warren / Getty Images
• December 4, 2018 1:47 pm


Potential 2020 Democratic candidates are struggling to recruit minority staffers to help with their campaigns, a factor Democratic operatives say could severely limit success.

Emerging campaigns have been trying assemble minority campaign staffers, but there has been a shortage of capable Democratic operatives who fully understand the coalitions and how to work across racial and economic lines, despite the party's base being increasingly diverse and young, according to Politico.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) have previously employed African Americans in senior leadership roles, so they could reactivate them in the future if they decide to run for office, giving them an advantage over emerging campaigns who are still compiling spreadsheets of potential minority staffers and strategizing about assembling diverse teams. Politico interviewed more than a dozen Democratic operatives and their consensus on the issue was there aren't enough seasoned minority operatives to join the campaigns.

"Here’s what's going to happen. If you don’t have any people of color on your national team or if you don’t have them in those early states … you’re going to be hamstrung," said Jamal Simmons, a seasoned Democratic operative who has served as an adviser for multiple Democratic presidential candidates.

The shortage of minority political talent, one veteran Democratic campaign manager said, stems from the fact that Democratic campaigns and congressional offices have only recently started to make a push to diversify their staffs. Some congressional offices and state parties have worked to build an informal farm system by prioritizing minorities for mid-level positions that will lead to campaign managing jobs or chief of staff roles. But for now, the lists to pick from are small.


Ask almost any Democratic strategist for a short list of top African-American talent and many of the same names come up. Addisu Demissie, who recently ran California Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom’s campaign, is regularly mentioned as one of the most capable operatives. He’s expected to serve a top-level position if Sen. Cory Booker decides to run for president.

A former adviser for Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I., Vt.) 2016 presidential campaign reflected on their experience against Hillary Clinton and how she was able to boast about her diverse campaign staff compared to his staff, which was mostly white.

"The Clinton team did a masterful job of banging the shit out of us on these issues," the adviser said. He said it was often overblown but that they were "occasionally right."

Brandon Hall, A veteran Democratic consultant, said it's in the best interest of the campaigns to staff up early since they are expecting a crowded field of candidates.

"If 20 candidates run, there isn’t enough staff, period," Hall said. "Smart candidates should make diversity a priority early. Those that do will be able to fill out a diverse senior staff."

Minyon Moore, who served as a top adviser for Clinton’s 2016 campaign, emphasized the importance of Democrats picking up diverse campaign staff in order to stay competitive. A multiracial senior staff is imperative to assembling diverse coalitions of supporters, Moore said.

"It’s just a fact," Moore said.

The concern expressed by Moore and other operatives has been widely voiced for years throughout the Democratic Party, Politico reported.

Democratic donors and activists have been demanding for years that Democratic candidates and lawmakers hire more minorities, to little avail. In 2016, Susan Sandler, a major Democratic donor, urged other donors to pressure the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to hire a person of color as the committee’s next executive director. Some of the potential names Sandler offered were familiar: Demissie, Ruiz and Brynn Craig, another Clinton campaign veteran. Instead, a white woman, Mindy Myers, who served as a former campaign manager for Warren and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, got the job.

Steve Phillips, a Democratic donor who founded Democracy in Color, a political organization focused on multiculturalism in politics, said his group has a database of minority operatives that campaigns can draw from. Most of the likely presidential campaigns haven’t asked to use it, he said, though it’s still early.