How Elizabeth Warren is putting the consultant class on notice
When Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., announced in February that she was running “a different kind of [presidential] campaign,” one that swore off high-dollar fundraisers and personal phone calls with wealthy donors, the Democratic establishment was skeptical that she could pull it off. There were internal concerns too: Warren’s finance director resigned after she decided not to pursue big donations during the primary.
The campaign’s finances improved however, with $19.1 million donated in the second quarter. As Politico reports Tuesday, forgoing traditional fundraising is just one way that “Warren is defying the traditional playbook for running a modern presidential campaign.”
There’s no outside polling firm or plans to marshal resources for a massive television ad campaign. In fact, campaign staff tells Politico that “it is shunning the typical model for producing campaign ads, in which outside firms are hired and paid often hefty commissions for their work. Instead, Warren’s campaign is producing TV, digital and other media content itself, as well as placing its digital ad buys internally.”
“Campaigns offer a chance not only to tell people what kind of president you’ll be, but to show it,” Joe Rospars, Warren’s chief campaign strategist, told Politico, adding, “She’s running her campaign the way she intends to govern: willing to question existing power structures, making decisions grounded in evidence, and always fighting to build something more progressive, more inclusive, more joyful — and more democratic — than what came before.”
This approach, Politico reporter Alex Thompson explains, “is a rebuke of the consultant-heavy model of campaigns — an often lucrative arrangement in which the people advising campaigns invariably tell candidates that the best political strategy is to buy what they sell, namely TV ads and polling.”
According to Thompson, the ascension of Rospars to chief campaign strategist also “signals that the campaign is prioritizing smartphones and computers over TV.”
If Warren makes it to the general election, Thompson writes, “a large swath of Democratic consultants, including some whom Warren has used in past campaigns, could be relegated to the sidelines.”
Members of the consultant class on both sides of the aisle aren’t convinced Warren has made the right choice. GOP consultant Mike Murphy, who worked for Jeb Bush in 2016, told Politico, “Quality has cost. I’d rather have Jim Margolis [who is working for Kamala Harris] on my side and pay some fees than ‘Larry’ in a cubicle in-house who is learning media buying.”
Rufus Gifford, the finance director for former President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, told The New York Times in March: “If Warren says, ‘I can’t raise enough money, so my way to win is through an aggressive field operation because I have fired-up volunteers,’ well, Bernie and Beto can say, ‘O.K., well, we can do both.’”
Warren’s campaign aides counter that their in-house approach makes the campaign nimbler. In interviews with Politico they point to Warren’s response after Alabama passed legislation that almost entirely banned abortion. In just two days, her campaign had a plan to codify Roe v. Wade on the federal level, plus ads, graphics, social media content and a strategy to garner traditional media coverage for the plan. She was even able to reach out to abortion rights groups personally.
If she makes it to the general election, Warren’s rejection of consultants could be game-changing. Tim Lim, a Democratic consultant and partner at the strategic consulting firm NewCo, told Politico that if Warren’s robust in-house operations are successful, “This will change the way that campaigns are run.”