Hillary, Inc.

The women campaign staffers behind Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign are a tight-knit group that’s ready for anything.

By Ann Gerhart

Hillary Is EverywhereI’ve been around presidential campaign events where there’s this feverish sense that everything is going to unravel disastrously in the next minute. The candidate is late, the crowd is restless, the sound system is screeching, the cooks for the pancake breakfast have run out of batter, the press is hungry and officious twenty-something staffers are running around barking at everybody.This rarely happens with Team Hillary.Just inside the entrance of Hillary Clinton’s campaign headquarters in a nondescript building in Arlington, Virginia, where the nearest deli is the conveniently named Eat ‘n’ Run, a young woman is handing over piles of bumper stickers and buttons to an older couple who are hosting a Hillary party. They ask lots of questions; the campaign worker has all the answers. There is no "Let me take your name, and I’ll get back to you." Rapidly but precisely, she runs through the fund-raising rules: They can’t take cash for the political memorabilia; they must ask for checks; and they should discourage pledges because money now is better than a promise of money later. "And remember," she says brightly, "it’s just like when public television does its fall campaign. You’re not selling them something; they’re contributing!" Elsewhere, at an outdoor festival crowded with thousands of potential Democratic voters, John Edwards’s volunteers are nowhere to be found, and the Barack Obama staff consists of two folks handing out stickers on a side street. But Hillary’s presence can be seen blocks away. A handful of volunteers have mounted an elaborate poster on a pole, which is paraded up and down the street all afternoon, the candidate’s face beaming down at the throng. The message — WE ARE EVERYWHERE — is unmistakable.Yes, this is incremental. But elections are won one vote at a time, and Hillary’s historic bid seems to hum along with a calm, disciplined, consistent energy that has frustrated her Democratic challengers. Her strategy may be dismissed by pundits as robotic and too safe. But from the outside, at least, it appears the stumbles are few, the recoveries quick, and leaks from inside the operation nearly nonexistent. Team Hillary — a coterie of devoted women who have been working with Clinton since her days as first lady — is at work.Women and HillaryOne afternoon, I drop in at the National Women’s Finance Summit, a daylong affair in Washington for nearly a thousand of Hillary’s fund-raisers from 47 states. It’s a mostly white, affluent crowd: lots of Lafayette 148 suits and Delman pumps. During a break before Clinton arrives, the participants mill around outside the ballroom. Ellie Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, huddles with lobbyist Liz Robbins. With BlackBerries in one hand and checkbooks in the other, women line up to buy $20 slim-fitting T-shirts that have one word on the front — Hillary — in the candidate’s signature in turquoise.Inside the ballroom, the brain trust is in place. Senior adviser Capricia Marshall, 43, works the room in 3-inch heels and a wide-leg pantsuit. (Stilettos are the vehicles of choice for Team Hillary.) Longtime speechwriter Lissa Muscatine, 53, Hillary’s collaborator on her autobiography, Living History, greets supporters with hugs. Campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle, 42, and Ann Lewis, 70, a veteran Democratic operative who heads up the campaign’s outreach to women, are seated onstage with a collection of women the campaign calls validators, people of stature whose opinion can influence others. It’s Lewis’s plan to use these validators to energize women voters, who are more reliably Democratic and who, according to the 2004 census, outnumber registered male voters by nine million. So the campaign has recruited thousands of Hillraisers, who get weekly Hillgrams with talking points that advise them on how to talk to other women. And it’s working, Lewis later tells me. Women are beginning to realize that "This really could be up to us," she says. "We don’t have to choose from these schmucks. We could choose somebody we could really be proud of." Lewis does not hear this from the voters, precisely. "I just sense it," she adds.At the summit, Lewis is the first to jump from her seat and start clapping, hands high over her head. Barbara Mikulski steps forward. A blunt-talking pol from Baltimore, she has been in the Senate for 20 years. It’s time for a woman to be president, and particularly this woman, Mikulski bellows, and it’s time for other women to put her there, "whether you are working on macaroni-and-cheese issues or macroeconomics, whether you are tap-dancing backwards or tapping on your BlackBerry, even doing Pilates on the way."It’s a neat populistic wrap-up, a way to subtly sew up any split between at-home mothers and careerists or blue-collar women and their professional counterparts.When Hillary finally takes the stage, she projects confident capability. Wearing her standard campaign uniform of pants and a long jacket, she runs down all the ways she is best qualified to be president, emphasizing Iraq and Iran, the economy, the environment, healthcare, and family leave. It’s a smooth, polished delivery, given without notes, and Hillary works the stage as if she’d studied blocking and projecting rather than law at Yale. It is not sizzling or electrifying. It is, instead, almost terrifyingly competent. There is but one overture to gender: She recounts how a friend, remarking on Hillary’s status as a front-runner and therefore a target of opponents, saw a silver lining: "She said, ‘You know, when you get to be our age, having that much attention from all these men….’"The Women Behind the ScenesTo find out what makes Hillary Inc. run, I spend time with three of the women at its controls: Solis Doyle, Lewis and Minyon Moore, the 49-year-old director of outreach to African-Americans. The three are a diverse bunch, spanning generations and cultures. Solis Doyle, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, grew up in a tough neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. Moore, whose parents were postal service employees, is also from Chicago. Ann Lewis is the sister of Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass.); she has been in politics since she was 15, when she gave out flyers for Adlai Stevenson. Also part of this inner circle are Mandy Grunwald, 50, the media director who started with the Clintons in 1992, and Neera Tanden, 37, the campaign’s policy director, who worked on policy in the Clinton White House. Grunwald is from New York intellectual royalty; her father was head of Time Inc. Tanden is Indian-American; her mother was on welfare for two years after her divorce, before she became a travel agent. Capricia Marshall, a lawyer who served as social secretary in the Clinton White House, is the daughter of a Mexican mother and a Croatian father who cried the first time he went to see his daughter at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.Together, these women are intensely collaborative and fiercely loyal to their leader. Critics of the campaign have looked at those characteristics and seen an insularity and rigidity that resembles the team George W. Bush brought to Washington from Austin."People have to remember there were eight years of a group of folks that grew together through thick and thin, and many of us are still friends," Moore responds. "And we are happy we are friends, because in the political world, friends come and go, but we manage to hang together."What she does not say — what no one closest to Hillary Clinton ever will say, because it’s family business — is that the women on this historic quest spent years cleaning up some major messes, mostly Bill Clinton’s. Herself, which is what insiders call the candidate when they don’t call her Hillary, was never the one who had the problems with impulse control.It’s two days before the blowout party for Hillary’s 60th birthday — an affair that will add $1.5 million to her campaign coffers. I’m sitting in the spacious corner office of Patti Solis Doyle, the campaign manager with a reputation for being notoriously close-mouthed. (More than one former staffer has begged off discussing Team Hillary with me, even in totally complimentary terms, "because Patti would kill me.") But today Solis Doyle is showing a different side. Slender and chic in a silky white blouse, wide-leg denim trousers and, yes, spiky black heels, she’s also open and animated. Funny, even.Perhaps it’s the holiday spirit — Halloween is just around the corner. "We’re going as Star Wars, the whole family," says Solis Doyle, aka Princess Leia. "I usually take the day off. Not the whole day this year, though." These days she rarely sleeps more than four hours a night. During our conversation, her cell phone blares incessantly with a ringtone from the musical Rent that could be the refrain for her life: "525,600 minutes, how do you measure, measure a year?"I tell her I’ve been thinking a lot about multitasking while researching this story, wondering whether that feminine trait of overstuffing a handbag and lugging it around — "I may need something in here!" — has broader application as a management technique."Is that ability to anticipate and foresee problems and be prepared to meet them if they actually occur… ""Absolutely!" Solis Doyle interjects." ...is something that is… ""Absolutely!" she says again. "I’ve never heard that analogy before, but absolutely, I did the same thing when my kids were little. What do I have in case she throws up? Or in case she gets really agitated at the park and needs stimulation? You pack a big diaper bag. That’s what I do here. I always try to plan for…Okay, what if A happens? What if B happens? What if C happens? And I always have contingencies, no matter what."I mean, I’ve been with the Clintons for 16 years" — her dark eyes flash with mirth — "and trust me, anything can happen. Anything!"Solis Doyle scrapped her way up from the entry-level job of scheduler for Hillary during Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential run to become her de facto political director in the White House, figuring out where the first lady should campaign and for whom ("There wasn’t a political director, per se, on her staff," Solis Doyle explains. "So I sort of wore that hat too.") Then she moved to New York to help run Hillary’s Senate race. Solis Doyle is also credited for pulling in major donors when she was executive director of Hillary’s political action committee in the early 2000s. So although it is highly unusual for a presidential campaign to be led by an insider who rose through the ranks, Solis Doyle earned it, Harold Ickes, a longtime Clinton adviser, has said."I’m fiercely competitive," says Solis Doyle, the first Latina to head a major presidential campaign. "Growing up, I learned to be tough and to fight, and I bring that to the table." She learned to play poker when she was 6. "My father was in an accident at the factory where he worked and was on leave for several weeks during the summer," she explains. "He took me to the corner bar in the afternoon, and we’d watch the Cubs play." Dad ordered a beer for himself and a Coke for his girl, and taught her valuable lessons about playing her cards close to the vest.Now she’s Hillary’s decider and her enforcer. When the woes of disgraced fund-raiser Norman Hsu threatened to become one more Clinton scandal, Solis Doyle was the one who quickly decided to return the $850,000 Hsu had raised for the campaign. "I’m definitely an executor," Solis Doyle observes when I note that a great team is often composed of visionaries and those who can get the job done. "I’m also the person who says, ‘We gotta go now, time’s awasting’...I keep it moving. You have to. People can talk for days. But it’s a campaign; some decisions are made in a split second." It’s the old timekeeper in her, coming to the fore. But is it possible to schedule your boss to death?"Hillary’s not her husband, [who can] go 20 hours a day, seven days a week," Solis Doyle concedes. "But when she goes, she goes. And she is like him in that she feeds off the adrenaline and the talking to people. But once that’s over and it’s the end of the day, whew! I’m exactly the same way." The Sisterhood AppealMinyon Moore, with her cherry red lipstick and her compelling contralto voice, is a persuader in this campaign. She spent part of 2006 advising Barack Obama before returning to the fold early last year in the outreach role she played for the Clintons since she joined the White House staff in 1992. Moore graduated from a vocational high school, then worked full-time to put herself through college before becoming an organizer for Jesse Jackson’s Operation PUSH.Moore was aggressively recruited by the other 2008 Democratic candidates and met personally with most of them, along with a handful of black women whom she describes as "influencers, if you will, who could influence how a person was seen in various communities, particularly the African-American community." She has been lining up the endorsements of powerful African-Americans like Representative John Lewis, the legendary Georgia Democrat and civil rights hero, and she smiles when I point out that almost all the female members of the Congressional Black Caucus have put their support behind the female presidential candidate."I certainly have a lot of friends," Moore says, then hastens to share credit with a young aide who does congressional outreach. "And I am not ashamed of calling these friends in the midnight hour and asking, ‘Will you be with us? What do we need to do?’"Ann Lewis is in charge of securing the most important vote of all: the women’s vote. She is the one who orchestrates the weekly talking-points memo aimed at women. "I started to read some things from the commercial world, and they talk about word-of-mouth marketing and one-to-one communication," she explains. Women, Lewis says, "want to hear from somebody they know. If we can get women to talk to one another about this campaign and why it is so important, that is a very powerful segment." Hence the Hillgrams, and Nurses for Hillary, Lawyers for Hillary, Businesswomen for Hillary….Hillary’s support has been strongest among blue-collar women, the shift workers and support staffers she often calls "invisible Americans." Many within Hillary Inc.‘s leadership came up through the ranks and have moved into that elite class of well-educated, well-off women, the very ones who have been most skeptical of Hillary’s bid. I start to ask Lewis about this."What do you do about the problem of the college-educated, affluent — "She interrupts. "I think it’s getting better all the time," she insists. "They take longer, that’s all." The problem, she says, has been overstated. "The group you are now talking about…they say, ‘You can’t take me for granted. I know how hard I have worked to be accepted; I’m not going to immediately support some candidate who could then let me down…I want you to earn my support.’ And the support is growing." In fact, Gallup’s numbers from summer onward show a 15 percent increase in college-educated Democratic women pledging their allegiance to Clinton.But polls aren’t votes, so the campaign misses no opportunity to reinforce that sisterhood appeal.When Washington Post style columnist Robin Givhan wrote about the image conveyed by a glimpse of Hillary’s cleavage during a speech on the Senate floor, Lewis seized on it as a fund-raising opportunity, penning a letter urging donors to "take a stand against this kind of coarseness and pettiness in American culture.""Fashion, hair…I understand that," says Lewis, sitting in her office and wearing, it must be noted, a form-fitting jersey T-shirt herself. "Body parts? I draw the line, that’s all. It’s pretty simple." And, she adds, she spoke up only after outraged e-mails from supporters began pouring in.Reinventing the Campaign"There is no blueprint on how you elect a woman," Moore says. "So you retool." She, Lewis, and Solis Doyle will all tell you they’re reinventing the very culture of a presidential campaign from the ground up — and that the change has started in their own house. Solis Doyle boasts about reassuring Mike Henry, 39, the deputy campaign manager and a newcomer to Hillaryland, that, yes, he’d be able to take time off for his daughters’ parent-teacher conferences. Moore throws her head back, laughing, and says, "I’m like, ‘Buddy! Who are ya talkin’ to?’ We totally understand that" — half-day Halloweens notwithstanding. Still, the fact that he felt comfortable asking this during his interview perhaps speaks volumes; Moore goes one step further by suggesting that a position on Team Hillary will actually contribute to a male staffer’s evolution."I’ve worked with some men who, when they walk in the door, you are — whoompf! Because you know what’s coming: It will be all about them," she says. "But I can tell you the gentlemen here are fine and decent people…. They have grown to a point where I think we are making them better husbands, better boyfriends, because they hear more about things that happen to women than they would traditionally have heard.""That’s the great thing about Hillary," Solis Doyle says, fully aware that in describing a leadership model for a presidential campaign, she is also offering a leadership model for running a country in challenging, worrisome times. "She encourages everybody to speak their mind. If you disagree with something, tell us. Tell us why you think this is a bad thing. But at a certain point, okay," — here she claps her hands, with a crisp crack — "we’ve heard from all of you, and now we have to make a decision. We have to all get on the same page, and we have to go. There’s not a lot of woulda, coulda, shoulda with Hillary. After the decision is made, we’re a team. And I’m really, really proud of that."Because, as the women of Hillary Inc. know full well, anything can happen. At any time. Right up until the very end, when the voter stands alone with that ballot.But the bag is packed.Originally published in MORE magazine, February 2008.

First Published Mon, 2009-04-06 18:07

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