Some candidates have come roaring out of the gate in 2023 in a bid to carve out early leads and start building their lists for competitive 2024 contests.
But the campaigns launching this January are facing many of the same personnel challenges that confronted leaders on 2022 midterm races, which may get worse as more candidates throw their hats into the ring.
From managing remote and in-person teams to recruiting and motivating staff, managers tell C&E that this environment is unlike any they’ve ever seen and it requires an approach that differs from previous years.
“I’ve noticed it’s a lot harder to pool a lot of staff resumes for people,” said Brendan McPhillips, a partner at Hilltop Public Solutions who managed Sen. John Fetterman’s (D-Pa.) race. “I’m always fielding phone calls from folks asking, ‘Do you have good staff?’ I’m usually able to help folks out, but it’s just not quite as abundant as it was, which is challenging if you’re staffing up a race.”
McPhillips pointed to an increase in the number of active primaries as well as staff landing roles in the Biden administration or just feeling burned out from the struggles of the pandemic as a few of the factors that have led to a decline in available campaign staff.
“Being flexible with in-person work is a way to recruit broader, more diverse networks,” he suggested, but managing a remote team comes with its own set of challenges.
McPhillips became the senator’s campaign manager in June 2022 after the Democrat won a competitive primary — and had a stroke.
“A lot of folks were also remote so you didn’t have the same connectedness that I think you would after a good primary win, when folks worked together and hadn’t been through that major or shattering event,” he said. “Motivating a team had a lot of challenges coming into such a dramatic situation like that.”
He added: “You do have to think creatively about what motivates your staff, about how to create meetings and different kinds of interactions for folks who are in-person versus virtual. You have to understand people and understand how different people are and be thoughtful about how managing one type of person could be very different from managing another.”
Peter Finocchio, who managed Rep. Mike Lawler’s (R) campaign victory in NY-17, said he took an old school approach to motivating field staff posted to the remote offices spread across the district that stretches along the state’s southern tip along the New Jersey to Connecticut borders.
“When you have offices that are spread out like that having that continued relation with the campaign hub is very important so myself as well as our political director a couple times of week we would be on the road checking in on those offices, restocking those offices when needed,” he said. “Those check-ins were really important for team morale.
“Keeping everyone motivated, keeping everyone feeling like they’re part of that core team was the most important thing because most of them were not around Mike and the rest of the team everyday.”