With Friends Like These: Robbie Mook

The Democrats are proud of being the the party of “firsts.”  They had the first black presidential candidate to win the big prize.  Geraldine Ferraro was the first woman on the ticket.  Hillary Clinton may be the first woman president.  Even on her campaign staff we have firsts- the first Hispanic political director on a major campaign and, of course, Robbie Mook, the first openly gay campaign manager of a major presidential candidate. So just who is Robbie Mook and how does he operate?

Since 2002, Mook has had a winning pedigree within the Democratic Party.  Although as an operative he failed the Democrats to win the gubernatorial election in his native Vermont in 2002, he has had a string of success since then.  In 2004, he helped forge the John Dean strategy of organizing a cadre of volunteers who begat more volunteers and so on.  Although the Dean campaign fizzled, his efforts in New Hampshire in a losing effort to John Kerry in 2004 nevertheless beat the poll predictions.  In 2006, he helped the Democrats win a long-held GOP house of delegates seat in Virginia.  He coordinated Martin O’Malley’s winning campaign in the Maryland gubernatorial election and later that of Ben Cardin for a Senate seat out of Maryland.  In 2008, he was Hillary’s state director in Nevada, Indiana and Ohio- all states won by Clinton in terms of the popular vote if not delegates.  After she withdrew, he helped [mc_name name=’Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’S001181′ ] win a Senate seat in New Hampshire.  While working with the DCCC in 2012, he helped the Democrats pick up seats in the House.  But, it was his management of Terry McAuliffe’s gubernatorial campaign in Virginia that convinced Clinton that this was her man.

If there was dissension in the McAuliffe ranks, it did not show and most attribute this to Mook’s management style.  Afterwards, not a single person made a negative comment about anything that happened in that campaign and if anything did, it never leaked to the press.  In Virginia, he harnessed and controlled the various factions vying for power and influence within the McAuliffe campaign.  Such competition for influence defines any Hillary Clinton endeavor.

When Clinton won Nevada in 2008, she was on the ropes.  Although believing John Edwards was the main competition, it was Barack Obama she could not shake.  Nevada had the press declaring Hillary back on the winning track.  In fact, the dynamics that cost her Iowa were similar in Nevada- an upstart Obama gaining in popularity, her own shortcomings on the trail, and heavy union endorsements for Obama.  While Clinton was basing a campaign on polling data and fundraising, Mook was concentrating on organizing an army of volunteers that mimicked the Dean strategy.  And he pulled it off despite the odds and then replicated those results in Indiana and Ohio.

But, Hillary Clinton is Hillary Clinton no matter who runs a campaign.  Take, for example, the e-mail private server controversy.  When the story broke, there was great debate within the Hillary camp.  The old school advisers were telling her to do one-on-one television interviews.  Mook went for the quick fix- a press conference.  To assert that this press conference was a success is silly and no doubt there some who are telling Mook “we told you so.”  Perhaps, Mook was right but he is dealing with a seriously flawed candidate.  Throw in the Clinton inner orbit and there will be inevitable fireworks over the most minute “controversy.”

We know that Mook likes to stay out of the spotlight.  He is little known outside political circles, but respected and liked within them, even begrudgingly by some Republicans.  He is driven by voter data and organizing.  He is also known for being a great motivator.  If he pulls this off and Clinton wins in 2016, he will not be a secret any more and will join the ranks of Karl Rove and David Axelrod.

However, Virginia 2013 also shows a darker side to the Mook method.  Like Clinton, Mook was dealing with an ethically-challenged candidate.  Many pundits called the 2013 Governor’s race in Virginia one of the dirtiest in recent memory anywhere.  One major attribute of the Mook strategy is to define the opponent.  This may win you a race, but destroy you in a politically operational sense.  If 2016 gets nasty and personal and dirty, it will only entrench the GOP in Congress against the Clinton agenda just as the Virginia legislature, led by the GOP, is doing in Virginia.  The tactic comes with a cost.  McAuliffe’s main selling point was that “Cuccinelli sucks,” which may have won an election but killed an agenda.  Some have openly stated that Mook actually was behind the negativity in that campaign and that it will also be evident in a Hillary campaign.  Others have noted that Mook simply enters winning campaigns only and ones where demographics are on his side.

Also, the whole silly “Mook mafia,” which was exposed by ABC in e-mails disparaging the GOP, could play against him.  This is a man who openly embraces his comparison to a mafia don.  Unflattering revelations tend to come out during campaigns and one has to wonder if there are more listserv e-mails out there showing the immaturity of the Mook mafia.

There are people in the Hillary campaign who have her ear and heart more than Robbie Mook.  Each has their own agenda.  The infighting over competing Hillary political action committees is one example.  He has the job of controlling these strong egos while taking their elbows and ruling over a $1 billion enterprise.  Is Mook out of his league?

A perfect example in favor of that analysis is his recent public statements that no poll shows that people mistrust Hillary Clinton.  They can claim the comment was taken out of context or that he was cut off (he  wasn’t), but if Mook truly believes Clinton does not have a trust issue, then his problems may be bigger than handling egos and suppressing dissent in Team Hillary.  If that is his belief, then Mook is delusional.

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