September, 2nd 2011

An overlooked asset Team Perry may bring to the table

– Liz Mair

As media focus on Rick Perry's presidential campaign continues to mount, Politico's Mike Allen reports this morning on Team Perry's senior staff composition in a piece that is unlikely to grab headlines or attention to a large degree (staffing isn't as sexy as allegations of "Dominionism") but which is arguably quite important:

Here are brief bios of the team:

—Campaign Manager Rob Johnson recently served as senior adviser to Gov. Perry in the Texas Governor’s Office. Johnson managed the governor's successful 2010 gubernatorial reelection campaign. Prior to that, he was chief of staff to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and also served as his deputy chief of staff and campaign manager of his 2002 campaign. He also served as chief of staff to Rep. Jay Dickey in Washington. Johnson received bachelor's degrees in political science and public relations from Southern Methodist University.

—Policy and Strategy Director Deirdre Delisi has most recently served as the chair of the Texas Transportation Commission. Delisi has more than 14 years experience in government policy. She was chief of staff and deputy chief of staff to Gov. Perry, and served as his special assistant when he was lieutenant governor. She is a former policy adviser to the presidential campaigns of Lamar Alexander and George W. Bush. Delisi earned a bachelor's degree in political science from Duke and master's in international policy studies from Stanford.

—Political Director Wayne Hamilton is the past executive director of the Republican Party of Texas, where he was the longest serving executive director in party history. Prior to that, he was a senior campaign aide to Rep. Joe Barton. For the past eight years, Hamilton has worked as a consultant, focusing on governmental affairs, corporate public affairs, political consulting, and event and project management, managing projects in 15 states. After the historic Republican victories of 2002, including Gov. Perry’s election, Hamilton was executive director of the 2003 Texas Inaugural Committee. In 2007 and 2011, Hamilton was again asked to serve as the executive director of the Inaugural Committees. He is a graduate of Dallas Baptist University.
—Communications Director Ray Sullivan was Gov. Perry’s chief of staff at the Texas Capitol. Prior to that, he operated Sullivan Public Affairs, an Austin-based public and government relations firm. Between 1998 and 2002, he worked in various roles for Perry, including deputy chief of staff, communications director to then-Lt. Gov. Perry, and communications director for the 1998 and 2002 campaigns. During the 2000 presidential campaign, Sullivan served as a national spokesman for George W. Bush for President in Austin, including stints in Tallahassee and Broward County during the recount. He worked in the communications office of Bush-Quayle ’92, and from 1995 to 1998, Sullivan served as deputy communications director for then-Gov. George W. Bush. He was a political consultant at Karl Rove + Company, and worked for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Rep. Duncan Hunter and Rep. Sam Johnson in Washington. Sullivan graduated from San Diego State University with a degree in business marketing.

--Deputy Communications Director Eric Bearse in 2007 formed Bearse & Company, which provided political and communications consulting services to Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, Comptroller Susan Combs, Attorney General Greg Abbott and Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams. Bearse wrote speeches for Gov. Perry for eight years (1999-2007), including two inaugural addresses, four State of the State addresses, and several Republican State Convention addresses. He has also written speeches for university officials and private citizens, and directed grassroots and media campaigns for private organizations. Bearse worked for six political campaigns in Texas – including Gov. Perry’s campaigns for lieutenant governor and governor – and consulted on several political campaigns in the 2008 and 2010 election cycle. A 1993 graduate of Texas A&M University, Bearse was a member of the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Corps of Cadets and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science.

--National Press Secretary Mark Miner served as communications director for Gov. Perry during the 2011 and 2009 legislative sessions. He was communications director for Gov. Perry’s successful 2010 gubernatorial re-election campaign. He previously served as communications director for Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore, the Republican National Committee, and the Bill Simon for Governor Campaign in California. Miner graduated from Michigan State University in 1987, with a bachelor’s degree in communications.

--Travel Press Secretary Robert Black most recently was the director of governmental affairs for American Electric Power. He was Gov. Perry’s press secretary and communications director from 2003 to 2008, and directed the governor’s communications during his 2006 gubernatorial re-election bid. Previously, Black was communications director for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s successful 2002 campaign, and was communications director for the Republican Party of Texas from 1998-2001. He graduated from the University of Texas – San Antonio.

--State Press Director Katherine Cesinger has worked for Gov. Perry for nearly seven years, most recently as his press secretary at the state capitol. Prior to that, she was deputy press secretary for three years. Cesinger also served as communications director for the Governor’s Competitiveness Council, and has worked in the governor’s budget, planning and policy division, as well as the office’s legislative division. Prior to working in the Texas Governor’s Office, she worked for the Louisiana House of Representatives. Cesinger earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Louisiana State University.

Summary: The Perry campaign is evidently being run by a team that in the round looks a little older and more seasoned than one sometimes finds in politics these days; furthermore, it is being run by people with deep, long experience of working with the candidate in some form or another.  That, collectively, is something that may prove to be a major asset as this race plays out.

Politics is full of smart, enthusiastic, clever, hard-working younger staffers and consultants who bring great instincts and chops to the job.  Many presidential campaigns currently underway benefit from having these folks on board including in senior positions, and working hard.  That should not be forgotten or underestimated.

But there is something to be said also for a little extra age and experience, and in Perry's case, that is particularly so given some of the challenges the Texas governor may face in the course of this campaign.  

In Perry, we have a candidate with some strong (and in some cases easily described as controversial) views.  Perry has a long record as a governor, and he will have made mistakes and done things that may not appeal to the electorate at large in the course of his various terms in office.  A greater effort is already underway to swiftly stereotype and negatively define him than what we see with other contenders.  He is being attacked rather harshly at what remains a relatively early stage in his campaign. And polling suggests he is in a good position to win the GOP nomination and potentially the general election, should he become the nominee-- so all of the bad stuff that is happening to Rick Perry is only going to increase.

Setting aside that in those kinds of situations, experience counts in the most general of terms (e.g., having a more developed set of personal experiences that can help provide some context where particular events occur), operatives being a little older and more seasoned may count in other, more specific ways, too.  One that immediately springs to mind is in relation to the very natural over-fretting of genuinely insignificant minutiae that can often occur on campaigns, but to which folks with deep, long experience tend to be less prone to.  That is a real problem when there is oppo flying around, where a candidate has taken positions that appear to be easily politically exploitable (this week's version: Perry's comments about Social Security in his book), and where there is more limited time in which to get a job done. 

Knowing the candidate-- something that is easier when one has interacted with him or her and his or her other staff for years and years (which itself generally means more total time on the clock), and not merely months or in some casual, occasional setting-- also helps tremendously, again especially given some of the challenges Perry faces.  Knowledge of the candidate's actions, comments, thoughts, responses, preferences and views is something that takes some time to acquire.  It's also really important to ensure the candidate is consistently presented in a way that works and is ultimately able to achieve their goal in running (winning, but typically more than that, too-- e.g., setting them up to pursue a particular further objective). Campaigns always have folks endowed with that knowledge on board.  But they may not have them to the same degree or fulfiling quite the same roles that it appears Team Perry does.

The point has been made that continuity in staffing, and the fact that Perry was up for re-election just last year (and facing a primary challenge, to boot), work to his advantage, also-- and that seems beyond dispute.  But the way Perry has put his team together seems as though it's got a bit more than that and an asset that, frankly, some other presidential campaigns lack. [intro]



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