Leadership staffing for this year’s off-year cycle campaigns was challenging for some Democratic candidates, which may foreshadow a shortage of managers and other top staffers for the left in 2024.
Blue Leadership Collaborative (BLC) Executive Director Justin Myers said his group has a cohort of 16 managers from diverse backgrounds that it has helped place on Virginia campaigns this cycle. They’ve been in their positions since March after going through a six-week training program organized by the BLC, which also supplements the managers’ salaries and benefits.
“If you looked at even how long it took for Virginia to find campaign managers to cover all of their races, that just shows you that at the moment staffing, at a high level, is somewhat hard,” he said. “I think particularly when you’re talking about two positions, managers and finance directors, those have been two of the toughest positions to fill — probably up until the congressional level, if I’m being fair.”
BLC selects candidates for its program who have two-three years of campaign experience, as well as experience managing a budget, a principal and staff. For this cohort, the program received more than 320 applications.
Myers is a former manager himself, who also did a stint at the DCCC as its Northeast political director during the 2016 cycle. He sees those up-and-coming in the industry taking a different approach to their careers. For starters, they see the path to managing top campaigns as less linear.
“Whether it’s you becoming a presidential manager or a Senate manager, congressional manager, you don’t have to be as rigid in your path to get there,” he said, adding: “I think a lot of these managers are certainly taking better care of themselves than we did [while] growing up, and they’re going to be a little bit more inquisitive and ask a lot more questions about what they’re taking on instead of just jumping on something just to do it.”
Now, Myers sees his group’s program as a way to help grow the pool of diverse staffers in the industry — starting at the grassroots level on down-ballot campaigns.
“It’s our belief that they’re gonna do it in a different way because of the way that we train them. They’re going to staff a different way. They’re going to manage their staff a different way. They’re going try to retain them after,” he said. “My hope is that diversity only gets better in this space. We have a long way to go, but man, we are in a much better place than when I touched down in DC just in 2015.”
Despite a potential shortage of seasoned managers available for Democrats in 2024, Myers is confident that his group’s cohorts will help deliver wins on the races they work. That’s because, in this off-year cycle, they’re gaining the experience in Virginia that will help them work with a presidential coordinator or gubernatorial on top of them.
As a result, they’ll know “how to coordinate with them, and how to make sure your candidate is getting the most out of every opportunity,” such as a high-profile surrogate visit.
In terms of the formula for what makes a good campaign manager, Myers puts consensus building at the top of the list.
“I think at this level, you have to be a good consensus builder,” he said. “Meaning you’re working with a team, you’re not the last decision maker, right?
“You have to make sure you are working with your consultants to come to what is the best decision for the campaign. That piece is something that’s often difficult for some young managers to understand: Actually, they’re not going to come in and just be the ultimate decision maker. And then, of course, can [they] manage a principle? That takes time, but it is also something that can be coached.”
Applications for BLC’s next cohort for its management training program will open sometime in mid-September.