The Women Behind the Campaigns of the Democratic Presidential Hopefuls

By McKenna Donegan on November 01, 2019

In 1988 Susan Estrich was the campaign manager for Michael Dukakis’s Presidential run. She was the first female campaign manager of a major presidential campaign, and the first female campaign manager of the modern era. It used to be unheard of for women to run political campaigns. Now, it’s becoming increasingly common

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An August survey conducted by Politico found that for the first time ever women make up more than half of the senior staff on the campaigns of all of the top polling candidates. Let’s take a look at two of the women running the campaigns for the 2020 Democratic Presidential hopefuls.

Lis Smith is a Democratic campaign communications specialist who has previously worked on the campaigns of President Barack Obama, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and Senator Claire McCaskill. Smith is now the Senior Advisor on Communications for Pete Buttigieg. In a recent article by Marie Claire, Lis Smith provided a glimpse into her life, and how she works tirelessly to turn Mayor Pete into a household name. The month Buttigieg began his campaign, Smith slept three hours a night, frequently sleeping with her cellphone under her pillow. Her day would begin at 6 am, where she would get into the car beside Buttigieg with velcro rollers in her hair and complete her makeup routine whilst filling in Mayor Pete on that days events. Working for the first openly gay presidential candidate has not come without its challenges, and Lis Smith has had to plan accordingly to defend the candidate against anti-LGBTQ protestors.

At an event in rural Iowa in April, evangelical activists showed up with a sound system and began yelling at Buttigieg about his sexuality and his support for abortion rights. Among the protestors was a person dressed as a devil, and another dressed as Jesus. Smith made the decision to delay the event until she could find Buttigieg a microphone and a sound system of his own so that his speech would not be drowned out by the protestors. She told Mayor Pete, “Here’s the good news: You managed to bring Jesus Christ and Satan together. The bad news is that they’re both heckling you.” Buttigieg followed Smith’s plan and the event went accordingly.

Maya Rupert is the third black woman in history to run a presidential campaign. She served as executive director of Julian Castro’s Political Action Committee, Opportunity First, and is currently serving as Castro’s campaign manager. Rupert explained that because she doesn’t fit the mold of a typical campaign manager she is often stopped from going into events alongside Castro because security guards assume she is not part of the campaign. Furthermore, on one occasion a man delivering water to their San Antonio office asked if there was anyone around to sign for the delivery. Rupert replied that she could, followed by the man’s reply, “Well I guess anyone can do it.” She also faced a series of racist and misogynistic phone calls from right-wing internet trolls after Castro’s twin Joaquin published a list of President Trump’s top donors from their hometown of San Antonio. The caller’s targeted Rupert’s race and her weight. She was not deterred by this however. “We have to draw on the part of us in those moments that will not let us stop, because there’s a reason they’re trying to stop us.”

In a recent interview with CNN Lis Smith noted that 53% of Pete Buttigieg’s staff are women. This is the new reality of campaign staff — it is no longer a boy’s club. Women bring unique perspectives to the table that are lost when men are running the show. It is especially important to have diversity of opinions when campaigning for the highest office in the country. Having women with a multitude of life experiences working on campaigns ensures that they reflect the people they want to vote for them.

McKenna Donegan is a junior at Siena College from Syracuse, New York. This fall she is participating in American University’s Washington Semester Program. McKenna joined the RepresentWomen team as a research intern in early September, and is excited to work towards a world where women are represented in elected office and leadership positions.

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