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Democratic hopefuls seek diversity in advisers

When the leading Republican presidential candidates sit down with their top advisers, those with a seat at the table don't exactly look like America, to use the phrase popularized by former President Clinton.
Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle, seen in her office Tuesday, is a charter member of "Hillaryland" who went to work for Clinton during the 1992 presidential campaign and stayed through eight years in the White House.Chris Greenberg / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

When the leading Republican presidential candidates sit down with their top advisers, those with a seat at the table don’t exactly look like America, to use the phrase popularized by former President Clinton.

The 2008 presidential race is notable for the presence of a woman and a black among the leading Democratic candidates. But progress is much slower when it comes to diversifying the ranks of top decision-makers within the various campaigns, especially those of the Republicans.

The campaigns of the top GOP candidates—Mitt Romney, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani—couldn’t point to any key advisers who are black, although there are some women in the top tier. Not unsurprisingly, those campaigns with the most women and minorities among top staff members are Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.

Clinton’s campaign manager is Patti Solis Doyle, a charter member of “Hillaryland” who went to work for Clinton as a scheduler during Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign and stayed through eight years in the White House. Solis Doyle’s Mexican immigrant parents came to the first Clinton inauguration in 1992 and wept with joy that their daughter would be part of the first lady’s staff.

As first lady, Clinton’s advisers also included a group of women known informally as “the Chix,” and some of those same women now have her ear in the campaign, including media adviser Mandy Grunwald and longtime Democratic activist Ann Lewis. Her top two policy advisers are women, one of them black and the other Indian American.

Solis Doyle speaks to the benefits of having a diverse staff: “First of all, it’s more fun. Second of all, it gives us different perspectives on decision-making, how to lead, different ideas. That always makes any organization stronger.”

The Obama campaign counts six minority staffers among its top 14 staff members, and six women within the same group. Obama’s political and policy directors are black, he has a Latino national field director, and his finance director is a woman, Julianna Smoot. His polling team includes Cornell Belcher, a former pollster for the Democratic National Committee and one of the country’s few high-profile black political consultants .

Obama spokesman Bill Burton, who, like his boss, has a black father and white mother, says a diverse staff “helps to get a fuller sense of opinions and perspectives and ideas from a broad spectrum of individuals.”

‘It’s not perfect’
David Bositis, a senior researcher at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a black think tank, said the process of improving ethnic and gender diversity in presidential campaigns has been evolutionary and “there’s definitely still a ways to go.” The problem with relying too heavily on white men in the campaigns, he said, goes far beyond mere symbolism.

“What you hear and what you think about is going to be decided to some degree by those people who are around you,” Bositis said. “If your campaign is dominated by white men and your inner circle is dominated by white men, then what you’re going to be thinking about is the ... perspective of white men, usually middle-aged white men.”

Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, who was the first black to lead a major presidential campaign when she managed Al Gore’s in 2000, says that on the Democratic side, “it’s not as bad as it once was.” She said the Democratic campaigns have made a point to contact her as they seek out diverse staff members, and she frequently passes along resumes.

“It’s not perfect, but the good news is that there are more people of color and more women in the pipeline,” Brazile said. “We just need to give them a seat at the table, even if it’s a folding chair.”

Progress among the Republican campaigns lags well behind the Democrats’, Bositis said.

“Republicans always say they go for the best, and the best to them usually means some white guy,” he said.

Among Republicans, Romney’s campaign has Alex Castellanos, a native of Havana, Cuba, as media consultant, but could not point to any top-tier black advisers.

Romney does have some influential women. His campaign manager is Beth Myers, a one-time acolyte of Karl Rove who was chief of staff to Romney as governor of Massachusetts. His policy adviser is Sally Canfield, previously an adviser to former House Speaker Dennis Hastert. Barbara Comstock, a former Justice Department spokeswoman, is a communications consultant.

‘Not much has changed’
Giuliani has no high-ranking minorities, but a few women have top jobs. His chief financial officer is Sandra Pack, a former assistant Treasury and Army secretary, and his communications director is Katie Levinson, formerly part of the communications team at the Bush White House.

“We’re focused on hiring the best-qualified staff and proud to have such an accomplished and talented team,” said Maria Comella, a Giuliani campaign spokeswoman.

The top echelon of McCain’s team is the domain of white men, although the campaign did identify two campaign deputies who are women, including strategist Sarah Simmons. Deputy communications director Danny Diaz is Hispanic.

Jamal Simmons, a black Democratic political consultant and the president of a communications consulting firm, said that while the Democrats have made progress at diversifying, “all these campaigns can do better.” Rarely are the most indispensable campaign positions filled by blacks, he said.

Looking at campaign staffs, “Locating an African-American research director is tougher than finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,” Simmons wrote in a 2005 column, and not much has changed since then, he says now.

John Edwards’ inner circle is heavy with white men, but his political director, David Medina, is Hispanic. Jennifer Palmieri is senior adviser and Kathleen McGlynn is chief of staff. Constituency director Matt Morrison and Treasurer Julius Chambers are black.

Using the ‘Rooney rule’
The campaign of Bill Richardson, whose mother was Mexican, includes a number of Hispanic staff members at the top, including national field director Dan Sena and senior adviser Mike Stratton. Women on the staff include deputy campaign manager Amanda Cooper, nicknamed “The Machine” by Richardson and “Demanda” by some others because of her drive, and finance co-chairs Colleen Turrentine and Linnea Dyer. Senior policy adviser Calvin Humphrey is black.

Sen. Joe Biden’s campaign manager, Luis Navarro, is Hispanic and his finance director is a woman, Chris Koerner. Deputy political director Muthoni Wambu is a black woman. Sen. Chris Dodd’s campaign is managed by Sheryl Cohen.

To increase minority representation, Simmons advocates a political version of the so-called Rooney Rule from the National Football League, which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate when filling a head coaching vacancy.

Part of the challenge, Simmons says, it to get more women and minorities ready for the top tier by giving them a chance to prove themselves in other roles, such as chiefs of staff and spokesmen for members of Congress.

In the past 15 years, Simmons says, the most successful presidential campaigns—Bill Clinton’s and George W. Bush’s—have been the most diverse. Bush’s campaign advisers in 2000, he noted, included Karen Hughes, Alberto Gonzales and Condoleezza Rice.

“I may disagree with his policies and the policies of his advisers, but he certainly seems comfortable taking advice from people of color,” Simmons said of Bush.

The need for representation by minorities within the campaign ranks will be even more important this campaign, Simmons said, since the early primary states include Nevada and South Carolina in addition to overwhelmingly white Iowa and New Hampshire.