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As one of the country’s most powerful political strategists, Patti Solis Doyle’s professional life has been marked by triumph and tumult. She has been both celebrated and excoriated in the press, yet she has not lost faith in the political process.
Born in a working-class neighborhood in Chicago, the daughter of an undocumented Mexican immigrant, she was one of the first people to join then-Governor Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign in 1991. Solis Doyle served as a senior advisor to Hillary Clinton during that campaign and for two terms in the White House. In 2000, she served as chief of staff for Mrs. Clinton’s successful Senate campaign.
In 2007, Solis Doyle made history when she became campaign manager for Hillary Clinton’s presidential run – the first Hispanic woman to lead a presidential campaign. But after Clinton’s poor showing in the 2008 Iowa caucuses – she finished third – Solis Doyle was fired.
“I was devastated,” Solis Doyle told the Washington Post. The professional breakup was especially painful because Solis Doyle and Clinton had long enjoyed close personal ties. It was Solis Doyle who coined the term “Hillaryland” to refer to Mrs. Clinton’s core group of staffers. Clinton read at her wedding, and even threw her a baby shower in the White House. Meanwhile, the press reported extensively on her fall from grace.
Still, Solis Doyle continued her work in the national political arena. In 2008 she joined the Obama for America campaign as chief of staff for Joe Biden. She also served as an adviser to the 2012 Obama-Biden campaign.
NBC News recently caught up with Solis Doyle, 49, to ask about her life before, during, and after politics.
NBC: Can you tell us about your life these days?
PSD: I am living in D.C with my husband and kids, my daughter is 16, my son is 13. I split my time between Solis Strategies, we do consulting and crisis management for companies, and I am also a cofounder of Vendor Assistance Program (VAP), a financial services company that helps state governments with their budgets. It is based in Chicago. I am originally from Chicago; my brother is an alderman there, and a good friend of mine is the mayor (laughs). And I speak to women’s groups, Hispanic groups, and do commentary for cable networks like Bloomberg and CNN.
NBC: Are you still in touch with Mrs. Clinton?
PSD: Yes. I recently saw her at an event at Georgetown University, before the holidays. I am just so proud of her. We talk mostly about personal things now; we talk about her beautiful granddaughter, we talk about my kids. I am so incredibly proud of her and the work she has done throughout her career. It has really been a career of public service, of advocating for people like myself and my family… You know, my father and Hillary had a very special relationship. She really admired him, and he sort of fell in love with her. I think it’s because she saw, in him, the true American spirit, that deep sense of wanting to give your kids a better life. And that’s who she is, an advocate of that American spirit.
NBC: Would you consider getting involved in Hillary Clinton’s 2016 run?
PSD: I am going to support her in any possible way because I really want her to win! I am hoping that she will run, it looks like she will, although I don't know for sure. But I think she would make an incredible president. I have thought that for many, many years. She is a wonderful public servant and her heart is in the right place. And the idea of our first woman president is extraordinary to me, and to my daughter too. But, I am not going to work on the campaign. I am too old for that! (laughs) I will go out and speak, give money, do everything else I can possibly do for her.
NBC: Do you have any advice for whoever would be running Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 campaign?
PSD: Whoever is running her 2016 campaign needs to remember that it is a marathon, not a sprint. You need to keep your end goal in mind, and not get rattled by whatever blow-up is the press story of the day. Just keep focused on your goal.
NBC: Do you ever miss the excitement of being involved in a campaign?
PSD: I look back on those days with great pride. I just had lunch with a few people I worked on the 2008 campaign with. We were just laughing, there were great memories and great times. You build friendships that last forever. Even though we lost, it was still an incredible experience. You work on adrenalin, you work 20-hour days and you don’t even notice while you are in the middle of it all. You don’t notice how exhausted you are. I think I slept for three weeks straight when I left my last one in 2008.
NBC: As the immigration issue is debated, what are your views on this?
PSD: Well, first let me say I think we need it. The issue needs to be addressed on so many levels; economic, social, practical and most importantly, on the human level. We are talking about people, families, children. This needs to happen. Now if I put my political analysis on it, I don't think anything happens before the presidential election. I think just for political reasons the Republicans don't want to give Democrats a win and vice versa. So I think it (reform) is going to be punted until after the election.
But I will say this: If the GOP stands any chance of winning the White House, they will have to address this issue, and they will have to come up with an immigration policy that is acceptable to the Hispanic community. I think Hispanic voters have absolutely had it with all the punting on this issue.
NBC: What accounts for your interest in politics?
PSD: I guess it’s my older brother Danny and my parents. I don't know if I should give them credit or blame them! They got me interested in political campaigns. My parents emigrated to the U.S. in 1954. My dad did it three times, the first two times were illegally and he was sent back. By the third time, he got papers and we moved into Pilsen, the ward that my brother represents today. My dad had three jobs, my mom had two. Yet they wanted the American dream like everyone wants the American dream. They wanted their kids to be better off than they were.
My brother used to work as a community organizer alongside Barack Obama, and my Dad took me to rallies, and canvassing. So by the time I graduated from Northwestern, I knew I wanted to be part of the political process, to help empower my people. I worked for Mayor Daley, and then it was off to “Clintonworld.”
NBC: What advice would you give to a young person who is interested in volunteering on a political campaign?
PSD: I would say, go for it, without hesitation, without question. Working on a campaign is such an incredible experience, not only because of the friends you make and the work, but also because it creates incredible relationships. But know going into it that there is often not a lot of money involved when you start out. Often, the young volunteers are children of middle-class or well-off families that can afford to do it, to work without pay. Honestly, it is not conducive to people like me. I came from a poor family and a poor neighborhood. I sometimes went weeks and months not being paid.
But I don't want to discourage anyone, especially young Hispanic kids from doing it. If there is any way you can, pursue it. Do it because of the camaraderie and the character that you develop working on something you truly believe in. If you can get in as a volunteer, keep your eyes and ears open, learn as much as possible from people who are more experienced than you, and on the next campaign you will be that much more smarter. Remember, no job is too small.