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Sunday, June 24, 2018

A wave of young women running campaigns (and changing politics)

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The campaign manager spoke about her candidate's race with a veteran's prepossessing self-assurance. Emma Brown is hiring staff, managing a budget, building out a schedule and studying voter data, block by block, in a Northern Virginia congressional district that will be one of the country's hardest-contested in November.Her caffeine-fueled days are long - 16 hours is the norm - and so are the odds for her candidate, Lindsey Davis Stover, running in her first race.

But Ms. Brown is undeterred. She has a strategy for her candidate to prevail in a "deeply tactical primary" through "hypercoordination" among events, digital strategy, mail, television and radio.

Ms. Brown is only 24.
Hillary Clinton's stunning loss in the 2016 presidential election prompted a surge of Democratic women running for office this year, and right behind them, a new legion of young women like Ms. Brown managing campaigns. With a seat at the head of the table, they will be responsible for strategy, message, staff and creating networks for future campaigns.

They will have the potential to reshape a profession long dominated by men.This year, 40 percent of the campaign managers for Democratic congressional candidates are women, according to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. In contrast, Kelly Dittmar, a political scientist at Rutgers University's Center for American Women and Politics, recalled excising data on female campaign consultants from a book she wrote in 2010 because the numbers were too small to be statistically reliable.

 "For years, women were the fund-raisers and the communications people," said Anita Dunn, a Democratic consultant and former communications director for President Barack Obama. "But when it was the big-boy decisions, there weren't women in the room."That is changing. Ms. Brown alone is in regular contact with a half-dozen other young women managing congressional campaigns.

Republicans have their analogues to Ms. Brown, though in smaller numbers.Becky Alery, 31, is managing her first campaign, for Representative Jason Lewis of Minnesota. She said she was drawn to the candidate in part because of the strong women in his life and the many who serve in top staff roles on Capitol Hill.

"I worked my butt off to get here. And I have had good support along the way," she said, including from several men she said were mentors. "I really do think it is going to take women standing up for themselves and men supporting them."

While many 24-year-olds are finding their way in an entry-level job, Ms. Brown is managing a campaign staff, volunteers and a candidate who is 15 years her senior. She rarely sees her friends or family, she said."They think I am insane," Ms. Brown said. "I am doing something very different than most of them."

After Ms. Brown graduated in spring 2016 from Colby College in Maine, she packed her things and drove to Cleveland to volunteer for the Clinton campaign. She was quickly hired as a field organizer and walked precincts, talked to voters and worked on turnout. After the campaign, she assumed she would get a job in strategic communications or maybe journalism, but Mrs. Clinton's loss made her believe she had to stay in politics and work to elect women.

"I really revisited my values and thought to myself, I could move to a firm or go in another direction," Ms. Brown said. "But if this is about to be as bad as we think it is going to be, I want to be able to look back and say I did everything I could when our country was threatened."

She connected with the Virginia chapter of Emerge America, a group that trains Democratic women to run for office. That led her to Wendy Gooditis, then a candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates who had $700 in campaign money and very little chance to win. Ms. Brown helped her create a compelling message, then relentlessly worked on raising money and contacting voters. Within six months, the campaign had raised $500,000, and Ms. Gooditis won her race in November.

Ms. Brown's success made an impression on Ms. Davis Stover, a former chief of staff to a Democratic congressman, who is running against Representative Barbara Comstock, one of the most vulnerable House Republicans.

"I wanted a woman to run our race," Ms. Davis Stover said. "I wanted Emma because she's intelligent, she's compassionate, she's driven. I wanted someone with grit to walk through the fire."Ms. Brown checking in on Ms. Davis Stover as she made campaign-related phone calls at her home, which functions as their headquarters. CreditErin Schaff for The New York Times

Ms. Brown said young female campaign managers like her can "hold that space for other women.""We talk a lot about how male managers come in, and there's this respect," she said. "Women managers come in, and they have to earn it."

Ms. Brown said she has felt the sting of sexism: Men have questioned whether she was really a campaign manager. She has been told she would have to wait her turn. And there has been the not-so-subtle "when did you graduate from college" question to discern her age.

She uses that as motivation. "I feel very compelled to the front lines of electoral politics and electing women, in particular, in the Trump era," Ms. Brown said.Ms. Dittmar, of Rutgers, said women who run campaigns are critical as "the key players in drafting a plan, drafting a message and a platform."

"The people you have at that table when making those decisions should be as diverse as the constituency that you are trying to persuade," she said.For now, Ms. Brown is making those decisions in a makeshift campaign office in Ms. Davis Stover's McLean, Va., home. A whiteboard in the dining room outlines the critical tasks. Volunteers and staff members work in the kitchen near the coffee maker. One recent night, Ms. Brown led a discussion of the five theories of power: legitimate, coercive, expert, reward and reverent.

It was a "wise beyond her years" demeanor that Amy Walter, the national editor of The Cook Political Report, said she saw in Ms. Brown when she worked as an intern for her one summer."She is not afraid to challenge people who have been in the business a long time," Ms. Walter said. "You think a 23- or 24-year-old woman might feel pretty intimidated. And she just doesn't back down."

Women have played prominent roles on campaigns for decades, including several on the presidential level, but managing a race was still more the exception than the rule.Ms. Brown said she and the other women running campaigns know that their opportunity was borne of Mrs. Clinton's loss.

"Hillary opened up this space for women," Ms. Brown said. "If she had won, I don't know if any of this would be happening. I don't know if #MeToo would have happened. I would give my right arm to have won in 2016, but I am really grateful for everything that's come out of it."


The writer is journalist the New York Times.

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