As Tuesday approaches, a select group of hard-working people are hoping to be the one who joins an elite political club: state directors of winning New Hampshire Democratic Presidential primary campaigns.
Contenders include Shannon Jackson of the Bernie Sanders campaign, who started as a staff assistant for the Vermont Senator in 2012; Ian Moskowitz with Joe Biden, a former political director for the New Hampshire Democratic Party (NHDP); Elizabeth Wester, on Elizabeth Warren’s campaign, who has worked for Hillary Clinton and Niki Tsongas campaigns; Victoria Williams for Pete Buttigieg, who comes out of U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan’s political team; and Amy Klobuchar’s Scott Merrick, a former Jeanne Shaheen staffer.
You don’t hear the names of state directors often in conversations about Presidential elections, but Granite State insiders know who they are—and often remember them, even many years later.
They are often among the earliest hires of Presidential candidates, who typically want someone on the ground who knows the state well. That’s unlike most state nomination contests, where candidates often send a trusted ally from the national team, late in the process, to run the show—sometimes, in fact, the state director for New Hampshire, once that primary is over.
When they’ve got the right person, candidates usually give their New Hampshire state director considerable autonomy to assemble staff, coordinate volunteers, do outreach to local officials and influencers, and plan events.
“There are a lot of states where you can get away with relying on consultants, and national committees,” says Julia Barnes, state director for the 2016 Bernie Sanders campaign. “New Hampshire is professional retail politics 24/7, every week, every year.”
“My experience has always been that the national campaign trusts the New Hampshire people, because New Hampshire is such a quirky little state,” says Susan Casey, who played key roles in several primaries there.
The modern history of state directors dates back to 1972, the first Presidential election after the national Democratic Party reformed its nomination process to enhance the importance of primaries. Prior to that, the state party ran the campaign of the candidate it endorsed, explains Ray Buckley, current NHDP chair—whose own Presidential primary experience began with canvassing for Ed Muskie at the age of 11.
In the years since, ten different people have earned victory in the New Hampshire primary as state director—two of them accomplishing it twice, each with two different candidates. Only the 2012 primary, an uncontested coronation of Barack Obama’s re-nomination, had no state director for the primary.
I reached out to all ten, to talk about how they came to the role, how they pulled off the victory, and what they’ve gone on to do since then.
Election year: 1972
NH primary winner: Ed Muskie
State director: Maria Carrier
“First of all, she always says that they weren’t tears,” says Steve Carrier, son of 99-year-old Maria Carrier, who lives today in Chevy Chase, Maryland, near family, and where she spent most of her life. “And besides, she would say, ‘I’m from an Italian family, there’s nothing wrong with a man crying.’”
Devotees of New Hampshire primary lore know exactly what he’s talking about. At a press conference in front of the Manchester Union-Leader, to complain about the newspaper’s coverage, Muskie reportedly shed tears. Staff insisted it was snow, but the idea stuck that the Maine Senator was emotional or even unstable.
He held on to win the New Hampshire primary, but by less than expected, propelling George McGovern toward the eventual nomination.
Maria and her husband had moved to Exeter, New Hampshire in the late 1950s. It wasn’t until 1968, when she was 48 years old, that she became actively engaged in campaign politics by helping Eugene McCarthy—spurred, like many people, by the Viet Nam War.
She turned out to be a skilled organizer. She soon became a Democratic National Committee member, and then ran for and won a seat in the New Hampshire house of representatives “by knocking on every single door in the district,” her son says.
By the time candidates began organizing for the 1972 cycle, Carrier was a hot commodity. Although she usually chose the most liberal candidate, Steve says she took the job with Muskie because she thought he had the best chance to win.
In fact, her confidence in Muskie led to the moment she became best known for—to her long regret.
In the run-up to the primary, with Muskie polling at 65 percent, Carrier was quoted saying “I’ll shoot myself if Muskie doesn’t get 50 percent.”
He got 49 percent. The media treated it as a defeat, and George McGovern was off and running toward the nomination. No state director since has forgotten the importance of lowering expectations.
Carrier later worked on Jimmy Carter’s campaign in the state, and went on to be executive director of the NHDP. But before long she and her husband retired back to the Washington area, and she left her campaigning days behind as well. Her son says she still has boxes of memorabilia, however, from her days in New Hampshire politics.
Election year: 1976
NH primary winner: Jimmy Carter
State director: Chris Brown
Brown, a resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico then and now, is the last successful New Hampshire state director who started without any background in the Granite State—though he would become one of the best at it.
“He’s my hero,” says NHDP chairman Buckley, Brown was managing a successful 1974 campaign for New Mexico governor, when Carter came to headline a fundraiser in Albuquerque. A friend of Brown’s, whose brother-in-law was Carter aide Landon Butler, set up a meeting after the event, leading to a position on the Presidential campaign the following year.
“There wasn’t a lot of money for people on the ground,” Brown says, but Butler insisted on having early staff in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Florida. “I said, New Hampshire is the Super Bowl of Presidential primaries, that’s where I want to go.”
Originally a staff of three in the state, the operation grew to about 10 by the Fall, and three dozen in eight offices by the final week of the campaign. It was primarily a targeted door-to-door effort, using old pre-tech walk cards, and follow-up phone calls.
Brown, like many campaign directors since, also helped plan the candidates’ critical visits to the state. With Carter, that included finding supporters willing to let the Governor sleep in their homes, a function partly of personal preference and partly of financial limitations.
One night late in the campaign, the future President stayed at the home of a 10-year-old Susan Prolman, who would later win the 1992 primary as Paul Tsongas’s state director.
After getting married and having a child during that campaign, Brown chose to stay put in Santa Fe, working as a political consultant, rather than join the Carter administration. But he was back in the Granite State for Carter’s re-election four years later, this time in a regional role, and again in a national role for Gary Hart in 1984, and Dick Gephardt in 1988.
Today he considers himself “semi-retired in this business,” although he still occasionally gets in the game; most recently for Michelle Lujan Grisham’s successful 2018 gubernatorial campaign.
Election year: 1980
NH primary winner: Jimmy Carter
State director: Jeanne Shaheen
Two-time winning state director Shaheen was unavailable to be interviewed for this article; as New Hampshire’s senior U.S. Senator, she’s been a little busy with the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.
She wouldn’t have that job today, her husband Bill Shaheen says, had she not been bitten by the political bug during the Presidential primary of 1980.
Bill had been the politically active one; he chaired Carter’s New Hampshire effort in 1976. That cycle, Jeanne was a newly converted Democrat—leaving the Republican Party her family had supported for generations, not just over Watergate, but women’s equality issues as well.
Age 28, with a one-year-old baby, Shaheen had impressed state director Chris Brown as a Strafford County organizer on that 1976 Carter campaign.
When Brown took a larger regional position on the Carter 1980 re-elect, he needed a state director to defend New Hampshire against Ted Kennedy’s aggressive primary challenge. Bill Shaheen had become U.S. Attorney, and had to abstain from campaign involvement. But, he wasn’t the Shaheen that Brown wanted.
Given the stories of bitterness between the two camps, you might have expected that she got flack for remaining loyal to Carter. But that wasn’t the case, Bill says. “There was sympathy. They said, you’re not going to beat Teddy Kennedy.’”
She buckled down, out-worked everybody, and—with a little help from Kennedy’s infamous flubbed Roger Mudd interview—won the primary and effectively ended the threat to Carter’s re-nomination.
Election year: 1984
NH primary winner: Gary Hart
State director: Jeanne Shaheen
Although many from the Carter campaigns supported his former Vice President, Walter Mondale, Brown was with the young, charismatic Colorado Senator who he knew from McGovern campaign days. To run New Hampshire, he initially found 30-year-old Susan Casey, who had organized on the seacoast for Kennedy in 1980. But he kept pursuing Shaheen as well, and eventually—after a size-him-up dinner at Bill and Jeanne’s house—she decided to come aboard.
There was some tussling between Casey and Shaheen over titles and duties, as well as residual tensions from being on opposite sides of the Carter-Kennedy battle. But in the end, “we were a perfect match,” Casey says.
“We had zero money,” Casey recalls. She and Shaheen were given salaries on paper, but the campaign couldn’t actually pay them, so they “donated” the money back to the campaign.
Others came flocking to help out for little or no money, including Alan Khazei, future co-founder of City Year; Eric Schwarz, who later co-founded Citizen Schools; and future Maryland Governor and Presidential candidate Martin O’Malley. “We were all just young and foolish, but we were inspired and just did our thing,” Casey says.
With little money, terrible poll numbers, and no media attention, they got creative where they could.
Casey recalls taking Hart to Berlin, in northern New Hampshire, during one of his visits to the state, and being surprised to see a Gary Hart office right on Main Street. It turned out that the staffer they sent to organize the city had talked the owner of the empty space into renting it to him just for show, to impress the media tagging along with the candidate. “The phones weren’t even hooked up to anything,” Casey says.
In the end, Hart stunned Mondale with a nine-point win in the primary. “It’s nothing glamorous,” Casey says. “It’s what we all believe works in New Hampshire: reaching out to people, building a slow, grassroots thing over 12 months.”
Shaheen kept running campaigns after that until deciding, as her husband puts it, “’I’m as smart as these guys; maybe I should be a candidate.” The rest—state senator, governor, and U.S. Senator—is New Hampshire history.
Election year: 1988
NH primary winner: Michael Dukakis
State director: Charles A. Baker III
The Dukakis team had plenty of people with New Hampshire experience: Chuck Campion and Kathy Rogers had run the Mondale campaign there; Rick Segal had been chief of staff to two New Hampshire governors; and future state party chair Buckley was on board as deputy state director.
But Dukakis chose 30-year-old Baker from Central Massachusetts, who had worked on Dukakis campaigns and in his administration, to be state director for the must-win Granite State.
While the national campaign focused heavily on Iowa, Baker ground it out in New Hampshire. He focused early on courting activists and elected Democrats, followed by “the classic goal of finding voters, door-knocking, grassroots stuff,” Baker says.
Having the next-door candidate was an advantage, to be sure: Baker says that an early poll showed that a significant percentage of potential primary voters thought that Dukakis was their own governor. And, in an impressive show of strength, the state campaign released a 4,000-person steering committee list in September 1987.
But, “people were saying you have to win by 20 points” in New Hampshire, Baker says. Using past primary results, he convinced reporters that a more realistic benchmark would be a victory of 12 percentage points.
Dukakis got 37 percent, good enough for a 17 point margin over Gephardt, and had the momentum heading toward Super Tuesday.
The campaign sent Baker around to quickly try to replicate his New Hampshire success in later primary states, including Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, California. “I was the closer,” he says. Dukakis then made Baker his national field director for the rest of the campaign.
A few years later Baker co-founded Dewey Square Group, one of the country’s premier public affairs firms, where he still works. He keeps getting called back to Presidential politics, most recently as a senior advisor to Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Election year: 1992
NH primary winner: Paul Tsongas
State director: Susan Prolman
Although they had organizers ready to drive up Route 3 from Lowell, the Tsongas campaign ultimately chose a New Hampshirite to run the crucial primary effort. They went with Susan Prolman, a 26-year-old aide to Nashua mayor Jim Donchess.
“I can’t remember who recommended her,” says Tsongas national campaign manager Dennis Kanin; “but we knew she had a reputation as a good organizer.”
“Paul Tsongas came into my office one day and said ‘I want you to be my state director,’” Prolman recalls. “It was a total surprise to me.”
Of that campaign, she notes that technology had yet to change the political game. “It was a lot of phone banks, going door-to-door, and organizing home parties,” she says. Their mantra, she says, was: “a campaign of sneakers, not shoes.”
The Massachusetts Senator had little in funding, and no early momentum. Even at its final peak, the New Hampshire staff was no more than 20 people, Prolman says. What they had were “legions of volunteers”—many coming up from Massachusetts—and an 80-page policy book, A Call To Economic Arms, self-published by the Tsongas Committee.
Volunteers went door-to-door, giving out tens of thousands of copies of the book. It became something of a pre-social-media viral meme; fans would show up to events clutching their copies.
Prolman also has memories of holding banners on overpasses during morning commute time in the bitter New Hampshire cold. A warmer recollection was a local woman approaching Tsongas at a campaign event, saying that she had a gay son, and appreciated his unusual-for-the-time support of gay rights.
Tsongas won the primary, while Bill Clinton memorably spun himself as the “comeback kid” for finishing second. It catapulted Tsongas from virtual unknown to top-tier candidate, and he went on to win several more states, before Clinton swept the southern Super Tuesday states and went on to the nomination.
“Tsongas ran the best on-the-ground campaign,” Prolman says, “but Clinton had a better infrastructure for a national campaign.”
Afterward, Prolman worked for New Hampshire Congressman Richard Swett, leading her to Washington, D.C. She stayed there after Swett retired, got a law degree from Georgetown, and worked for non-profits, mostly centered around animal rights.
Today, she is “taking a career break,” but keeping up her political activism—and exploring her artistic side.
Election year: 2000
NH primary winner: Al Gore
State director: Nick Baldick
Baldick, after working on the 1992 Clinton campaign, was picked in 1995 to run New Hampshire for what initially seemed like a potentially contested 1996 primary; the President’s popularity was low, and several national figures were making noise about challenging him.
Then came the government shutdown, a spike in Clinton’s ratings, and the end of those rumblings.
Still, Baldick gets credit as the winning state director for the ’96 primary, even if nobody else showed up.
Four years later, he got the call to head back up to the Granite State, as state director for Al Gore—who really was getting a challenge there, from U.S. Senator Bill Bradley of New Jersey.
Unlike many previous primary winners, Baldick had sizable frontrunner’s resources from the start, building a staff of some three dozen people. But, Bradley was clicking with New Hampshire’s independent vibe. Then a strong Iowa win put Gore ahead by a half-dozen percentage points in their New Hampshire polling, Baldick says.
Then came one of those moments that waits around any corner in New Hampshire’s notorious full-contact primary campaign. Walking the snowy streets of Milford three days before the primary, Gore was asked about once writing to a constituent that abortion is the taking of a human life.
Gore’s clumsy answer, disputing the context but also claiming that his position had changed, threw a wrench in the final push. “We were losing a point a day” in the polls, Baldick says.
On primary day, Bradley was ahead in the exit polls. “When you see the exits, you want to make yourself puke after putting so much into it,” Baldick says.
The field operation, built up over many months by a team of future all-stars, made up the difference. That group included Jen O’Malley Dillon, most recently Beto O’Rourke’s campaign manager; and Guy Cecil, known among other things as chief strategist for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Super PAC.
Their star performer was then-Governor Jeanne Shaheen. “She walked in and said ‘what do you need me to do?’” Baldick says. “She never stopped working.”
Baldick, whose wife was pregnant, quit the campaign on the tarmac that night. But it didn’t last. He ended up running Florida in the general election—eventually working there alongside fellow New Hampshire primary winner Charlie Baker.
Baldick went on to found Hilltop Public Solutions, which he still runs. He last foray into Presidential campaigns was on behalf of his friend Steve Bullock earlier this cycle.
Election year: 2004
NH primary winner: John Kerry
State director: Ken Robinson
A Marshfield, Massachusetts native, Robinson worked on a congressional campaign in New Hampshire in 1996—for Joe Keefe, whose sister Maura would later be Jeanne Shaheen’s chief of staff in the U.S. Senate.
Robinson then worked on Shaheen 1998 re-election as governor, after which she helped him land as executive director of the NHDP. When John Kerry ran for President, with Shaheen as his national chair, Robinson landed the role as state director.
“The job amounts to assembling a staff,” Robinson says. “There can never be enough good talent on a campaign.” The team included seasoned and up-and-coming operatives from both the Massachusetts and New Hampshire political worlds, including Robinson’s field director, Nick Clemons.
But maintaining morale wasn’t easy, as the campaign struggled and was written off by many in the media. It didn’t help when, at the start of the year, the national campaign made a decision to go all in on Iowa.
“That was a gut-check for us in New Hampshire,” Robinson said. “We would be without a candidate for three weeks in the state.”
The campaign relied heavily on surrogates on the campaign trail during that stretch. They also got some help from a former New Hampshire primary winner. “Jeanne called up and said my friend Sue would like to help,” Robinson recalls. Susan Casey, Shaheen’s partner from the 1984 Gary Hart campaign, flew in from Colorado with valuable advice on messaging and stagecraft.
Despite the candidate’s focus elsewhere, Kerry’s poll numbers rose in New Hampshire as well. Victory in Iowa provided the final spark.
Still, exit polls showed Dean behind by only around four percentage points. It was Kathy Sullivan, then NHDP chair, who mentioned how impressed she had been in 1996, seeing Kerry shaking hands at Faneuil Hall late into the day of his re-election against Bill Weld. Robinson sent Kerry out into an especially frigid Manchester afternoon to do it again.
Kerry not only won—he cleared the old 12-point victory benchmark invented by Baker for Dukakis 16 years earlier.
After the primary, Robinson “hid out for about a week in Manchester with my wife,” then headed to Wisconsin for its primary. For the general election he was sent to always-contested Florida, where he sat in a small office with previous New Hampshire winner Nick Baldick.
Robinson has worked in the corporate world since then, living in Rhode Island. But behind the scenes he’s kept very involved in politics in the region, as many now in New Hampshire can attest.
Election year: 2008
NH primary winner: Hillary Clinton
State director: Nick Clemons
Clemons, who is currently managing Congressman Joe Kennedy’s campaign for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts, was executive director of the New Hampshire Democratic Party for its incredibly successful 2006 elections. That, after serving as Kerry’s New Hampshire field director in 2004, ensured that Presidential campaigns came calling.
His first political job had been on the Clinton-Gore 1996 re-election campaign; he signed on with Hillary Clinton in January 2007, just as she officially launched her bid for the White House.
The Clinton campaign was, from the start, a more full-scale, highly managed campaign than most that had come before. By the beginning of Spring, Clemons had hired top staff and opened several offices; the state operation would ultimately grow to 13 offices and more than 60 paid staff. “We scaled up pretty quick,” he says.
Strategically, “it was actually remarkably similar to 2004,” Clemons says. They anticipated another surge of interest from Independent voters, who would make up some 40 percent of the primary vote. “We couldn’t re-invent Hillary as the liberal standard-bearer, but we didn’t have to.”
Expectations were high, after years of Clintons boasting of their special relationship with New Hampshire following the comeback kid primary of 1992. The pressure ratcheted up after Clinton finished third in Iowa, behind Barack Obama and John Edwards.
Then came one of those unpredictable New Hampshire moments: at a coffee shop campaign event in Portsmouth, a woman asked Clinton how she handled the stresses of the campaign. Clinton choked up a bit during her answer, and cameras zoomed in on tears welling in her eyes.
“Kathleen Strand (the campaign’s New Hampshire communications director) calls me and says, ‘oh my God, she cried,’” Clemons recalls. Veteran campaign hand Chuck Campion, sitting next to Clemons in the campaign office, called out “oh no, it’s a goddamn Ed Muskie moment.”
It wasn’t; it humanized Clinton for voters more than it weakened her.
Nevertheless, exit polls showed her trailing Obama. “We were trying to keep it within five points,” Clemons says.
His former boss on the Kerry campaign, Ken Robinson, suggested stealing his primary-day play from that campaign. Clemons placed a call to Huma Abedin, then Clinton’s traveling chief of staff, and soon Clinton was outside waving at cars in front of Manchester’s local television station, WMUR.
Clinton’s narrow win revived her campaign; it also meant that Clemons was sent around the country to run things in succeeding primaries.
It was his last full-time Presidential campaign role—at least, to date. Since 2012 he’s worked for Joe Kennedy III, so you never know.
Election year: 2016
NH primary winner: Bernie Sanders
State director: Julia Barnes
There was no contested Democratic primary in 2012, when Obama sought re-election. As the 2016 cycle started ramping up, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders had to somehow find an experienced New Hampshire Democratic operative willing to go up against the establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton.
As it happened, an experienced but disillusioned New Hampshire operative was leaving politics. Julia Barnes had worked on Joe Biden’s primary campaign and John Lynch’s gubernatorial campaign during the 2008 cycle, and was then NHDP’s coordinated field director for the 2010 cycle. “The establishment were my friends, colleagues, and counterparts,” Barnes says.
She later became executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party. But by 2015, at age 33, she was heading to business school.
Sanders came to her with a proposition. He needed someone to run New Hampshire against the Clintons; she had nothing to lose. “Why don’t you go out with a bang?” he said.
She did. The national campaign gave her autonomy to build her team and set her course; as things took off, they also were able to give her plenty of money and tech. Text messaging systems made it easier to generate crowds for rallies, and volunteers for canvassing.
The enthusiasm was there, waiting to be tapped. When Barnes took the job in July 2015, she recalls finding the out-of-the-way Sanders state office outside Concord, with a handful of staff “and thousands of resumes sitting on a desk.”
By mid-October, Barnes says, she believed that the campaign could win the New Hampshire primary. “The sheer volume of field work we were doing” was having an effect, she says. While Clinton had the endorsements, “what matters is how many people you can reach and persuade.”
In the end, it wasn’t close; Sanders won by 22 percentage points. Members of the team Barnes put together went on to staff New Hampshire in the 2020 cycle—and not just for Sanders.
As for Barnes, after helping the Sanders campaign through the succeeding primary contests, she did finally get that MBA. She is now a political consultant, living in Vermont with her partner, who she met on that 2016 campaign.