As campaigns and committees ramp up staffing for the fall, Republican consultants see different routes their party can take to address diversity in its professional ranks.
Diversity has been this cycle’s buzzword as for the first time in history nearly one-in-three eligible voters on Election Day will be black, Latino, Asian or “another racial or ethnic minority,” according to Pew. That’s fueling conversations from the Beltway to Sacramento about what all segments of the industry can do to mirror that turnout.
Democrats have been increasingly vocal over their side’s failings to match its consulting class and staffer makeup to the party’s rhetoric.
At the DNC in Philadelphia last month, Democratic groups used the convention setting as an opportunity to put a spotlight on the issue. Meanwhile, those discussions came on the heels of a coalition of consultants, dubbed the Democracy in Color Campaign, releasing a series of report cards grading top Democratic Senate campaigns on how they’re engaging voters of color.
Inclusv, Democratic Gain and Power PAC+ are also pressuring the DSCC, DCCC and Democratic National Committee to be accountable in their hiring of staffers of color.
Republicans have been less vocal in public. The RNC made news earlier this month for hiring Elroy Sailor, Ashley Bell and Shannon Reeves to “assist with African American vote strategy and outreach.” But other than those hires, there’s been little recent discussion in GOP circles about what the party needs to do to improve diversity in its professional ranks.
In fact, Bettina Inclan, a senior vice president at Mercury who previously worked at the NRCC, said the party is doing great on diversity — at least when it comes to hiring women.
"I worked for the NRCC when Liesl Hickey was the executive director. The deputy executive director, Jessica Furst Johnson, was also a woman. The communications director (Andrea Bozek) was a woman. There was a lot of women,” she told C&E. “Look at the RNC, the chief of staff is a woman (Katie Walsh). I don't think it's really a problem. “
She added: "It's a different generation. More and more you see woman pollsters and leading consulting firms.”
To be sure, female Republican consultants including Liz Mair and Katie Packer have been front and center leading the charge against Donald Trump this cycle. Inclan and others see that as a sign of progress on the right.
“When I started in politics, you could see there was not as many women,” Inclan recalled. “Usually, I was the only woman, the only Hispanic and sometimes the only person under 40 in the room. But I don't feel like that anymore so I think there's definitely been a change.”
Echoing one of her side’s broader philosophical viewpoints, she said it’s up to individuals to work their way up in the industry, not for the party to undertake a conscious effort to diversify its professional ranks.
"It's something that we need to keep on addressing, but they [committees and consulting firms] are self-correcting, in a way, because we realize the importance,” she said. "We should look at everyone, but good work rises to the top — as long as they're getting the opportunity to walk in the door.”
The problem is that even if a consultant or staffer of color gets in the door, he or she still may be excluded from the network of friends that can form a chain from a local race to the national party. And in politics, it goes without saying that people like to work with their friends.
Hector Barajas, a partner in the California-based GOP firm Revolvis, has helped create a program that fosters its own networks starting with candidates of color. In fact, GROW Elect aims to recruit, fund and help train Latino and Latina candidates to run for local office throughout California. “Nothing really happens if you hope and pray,” he said. “You’ve got to go out there and be proactive.”
Barajas argued that electing low-level candidates of color could help diversity the ranks of GOP staffers and, eventually, consultants. “It begins to foster talent,” he said.
In Spanish-speaking areas in California, he said, “you’ve got to hire people who speak Spanish, who look like the community.”
Still, despite Barajas' programmatic approach, he shares the same fundamental belief as Inclan. “A lot of it is still the old boys club,” he said. “Eventually the khakis and polo-shirt wearing crowd will let some of us who like wearing the jeans and T-shirts in. But I only get there by working hard and making folks win.”
If change is propelled by wins and losses, there could be a reckoning for GOP consultants post-2016, Barajas noted, especially if voters of color stack up decisively in the Democrats’ column, as polling suggests.
“There may be a lot of bodies left on the ground after this cycle,” Barajas said. “We’ll be the ones doing the sweeping afterward.”