Young Organizers Will Shape Politics in America

Obama’s youth organizers are an impressive legacy that will shape American politics for the next twenty years.

President Obama’s legacy will include the Affordable Health Care Act as well as the fact that he was the first African-American President. Beyond those two items, there will be a political legacy that will likely shape American politics for the next twenty years.


Story by William Lacy 

Photo by Amy Qualls-McClure

I am writing about the cadres of young organizers who have been trained during his two highly impressive campaigns. They will be organizing Democratic campaigns at the highest levels of politics for the foreseeable future, and the impact will be enormous.

I know this from personal experience. I was part of a group of young strategists who started in big campaigns on President Reagan’s 1980 race. Collectively, we dominated Republican presidential politics for a long time. We often split up during nomination fights but after a nominee was selected we were all pulled back into the fold. I accepted a major role in Senator Dole’s 1988 campaign, for example, and after he withdrew from the contest, I was recruited by the Bush campaign to run his campaign in California that same year. I wound up working on seven different presidential campaigns from 1980-2008, a twenty-eight year period.

As director of the Dole Institute of Politics, I have the enviable role of getting to talk with the smart political strategists and journalists of the day. I can say this without any doubt: The young people coming off the Obama campaigns are impressive, businesslike and no nonsense. They are going to alter the shape of politics in America.

Take, for instance, Jeremy Bird and Marlon Marshall, who served as field director and deputy field director on the President’s campaign. They participated in last December’s Dole Institute’s Post Election Conference, along with Obama Communications Director Brent Colburn. Bird and Marshall ran the highly regarded Obama ground game; Colburn managed communications. All three explained at length during the conference their jobs and why their campaign succeeded against what many analysts thought were pretty big odds. And despite the fact that they had just scored a big win, none was the least bit cocky. They were very down to earth.

All three are extremely well spoken, obviously well organized and passionate about what they do. They all have strong progressive tendencies, but they also struck me as being rather pragmatic as well. Bird and Marshall just started their own consulting firm. Colburn recently served as communications director of the President’s Inauguration.

These men are relatively young for the big campaign roles they filled. They will certainly be around a long time, likely winning more campaigns.

I’ve seen it first hand at the Dole Institute as well, where a former Dole Scholar and member of our Student Advisory Board, Clarissa Unger, has taken on a tough job as our development coordinator and is off to a fast and aggressive start. She was trained in large part by the ’08 Obama campaign and has the same impressive traits as the three from the ’12 campaign.

For nearly thirty years since 1980, Republicans ran the most efficient and best-organized presidential campaigns. The campaigns were expertly run with a high degree-of-command focus as well as planning and professionalism. Obama’s presidential campaigns have turned that history on its head. These veteran Obama staffers will be around running excellent campaigns for the next two decades. It’s literally a sea change in political management.

I, for one, will enjoy following their success…but as a Republican, I just hope they don’t win too many campaigns!