A potential shortage of campaign workers, an influx of money and the prospect that the presidential primary could reach a brokered convention is impacting Democratic campaign staffing plans up and down the ballot this cycle.
Some practitioners are worried that the hiring spree by the deep-pocketed Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer campaigns is a wholesale purchase of political capacity, which could be a dangerous thing for down-ballot candidates who may be starved of paid help.
Now, experienced practitioners know that staff shortages are par for the course during a presidential year. In fact, most hiring managers opt simply to wait out the primary calendar when staffers who don’t want to move on to the next state become freed up. But that strategy is jeopardized this cycle by a presidential primary race that could extend as far as the DNC in Milwaukee in July.
If that’s the case, down-ballot campaigns will surely struggle. “A brokered convention would be a disaster electorally for the party,” Dean Nielsen, principal at Seattle-based CN4 Partners, said during a panel Wednesday at C&E’s Reed Awards & Conference in Atlanta.
Regardless of whether that scenario plays out, Bloomberg is still offering to pay his organizers not just a higher-than-average wage of $6,000 a month, but to keep the staff on the payroll through November.
Julie Copeland, a VP at Democratic mail firm Chadderdon Lestingi Creative Strategies, said that while the labor shortage is an issue, it’s the upward pressure on wages that could have the more lasting reverberation.
A 2020 state director accustomed to making $12,000 a month, she noted, could have a hard time transitioning next year to managing a statehouse race without the ability to match that salary.
“That may change the landscape for a generation to come,” she said in front of an audience of Democratic practitioners.
That’s a shift that could make it even more important for staffers to find a place to land in the months that follow Election Day, noted DSPolitical’s Christopher Massicotte.
“I do know how difficult it is to hire tech staff, especially ones that are politically motivated,” he said. “They have to find a home where they can get a paycheck between November and June.”
Concerns about labor scarcity and retention extend up the campaign organizational chart from field organizers to data specialists and computer science engineers.
“Campaigns are like the gateway drug,” said Betsy Hoover, co-founder of Higher Ground Labs. “They get people in the door.”
Keeping practitioners with in-demand digital skills engaged is a challenge for the industry more generally, she said, regardless of what’s happening at the top of the ballot this election year.
“I think we have to think about what are the sustainable organizations, what are the sustainable companies that can keep people engaged over time?” she asked.