Clinton, Obama lead the pack in diversity of campaign staffs

Overall, women and minorities are still poorly represented, especially in GOP candidates.

Published May 18, 2007

WASHINGTON - 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 Bill 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 decisionmakers 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 some women are in the top tier. 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.

Clinton's advisers then also included a group of women known informally as "the Chix, " and some of those 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 decisionmaking, 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 Hispanic 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."

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."

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

Romney's campaign could not point to any top-tier black advisers, but 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.

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.

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.

Simmons said that while the Democrats have made progress at diversifying, "all these campaigns can do better."