Glass Ceilings

Will Hillary ’16 Be a ‘White Dude Fest’?

Hillary Clinton’s pre-presidential campaign has made some high-profile hires recently—but all of them, so far, are white males. And Democrats have noticed.

01.26.15 10:45 AM ET

Does Hillary Clinton need binders full of women?

Some Democrats, particularly women and people of color, think so.

In interviews with The Daily Beast, nearly a dozen Democrats, said they were worried Clinton’s hires for the top echelons of her pre-campaign haven’t taken gender and racial diversity into account.

Their concern started after early leaks about heavy hitters recruited for the likely 2016 presidential candidate’s proto-campaign all had two distinct things in common: they were white and male.

“Democrats need a leader that can bring together races and nationalities, especially now and especially to win. That starts at the top of the campaign, and Hillary Clinton will need to demonstrate that level of commitment to set the right tone and strategy going forward” said Aimee Allison, senior VP at PowerPAC+, a group founded by major Democratic donor Steve Phillips to build the “political power of the multiracial majority.”

The situation is altogether more jarring, several Democrats interviewed said, when one considers 2008 Hillary’s campaign manager was Patti Solis Doyle, the first Hispanic woman to manage a presidential campaign.

Consider the list of some top roles that would be filled when and if a campaign were launched, via The Washington Post:

Her chief strategist and pollster: Joel Benenson.

Her media adviser: Jim Margolis.

Her campaign chairman: John Podesta.

Her campaign manager: Robby Mook.

Two other senior pollsters: John Anzalone and David Binder.

One operative quipped that the top levels of the campaign are in danger of looking like “white dudefest 2016.”

“If Hillary doesn’t begin hiring well-respected African-American or Hispanic political aides in top positions,” said a senior African American Congressional aide, “I would imagine that people will really start to wonder if she is serious about covering her left flank. If that is the case they will look for a candidate who is eager to demonstrate that senior level inclusiveness is a high priority.”

Clinton’s staff is only going to make diversity a factor in hiring “if they feel pressure on it,” said a Democratic strategist.

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This is not to say Hillary Clinton hasn’t been seeking any counsel from women or minorities. She is close to Maggie Williams, who became her campaign manager in 2008. Cheryl Mills, her former chief of staff at the State Department, is expected to be involved on some level in the campaign. Longtime aide Huma Abedin remains a trusted advisor.

And political staffers Marlon Marshall and Brynne Craig are also expected to join any future Clinton campaign.

But as it stands, white men dominate her inner circle—or at least leaks about her inner circle.

Asked if Hillary Clinton was committed to empowering a diverse circle of advisors as she contemplates a presidential run, aide Nick Merrill responded, “always has, always will.”

Several Democrats defended Clinton, telling The Daily Beast on the record that it was premature to judge the makeup Clinton’s staff at this early stage of the election cycle. They also pointed out Clinton’s long history of hiring women and minorities for critical roles on her staff.

But then, off the record, they said diversity in her campaign was absolutely something they were concerned about, and was an issue being deliberated behind the scenes by major donors and party leaders.

The Democrats who spoke to The Daily Beast didn’t want to be named for a variety of reasons: some were trying to land campaign positions in the 2016 election cycle, or their bosses are expected to support Hillary, or they feared retribution and wanted to speak freely.

The frustrations over racial and gender diversity are especially acute among those staffers who worked on the most recent Obama campaign. Many of them found that women and minority staffers were not elevated to the very top rungs of the campaign structure—nor did they receive nearly enough credit for its eventual success.

One post-campaign retrospective from Rolling Stone drew particular ire—it pointed out ten of the Obama campaign’s ‘real heroes,’ nine of whom were men.

The question of diversity Clinton could face was handled improperly by Obama in the last election cycle, said a strategist who worked on the president’s reelection campaign.

“On these historic campaigns, where you’re trying to change the very image of what the word ‘president’ evokes, what you think of when you think of the word ‘president,’ the leadership was pretty male, pretty white,” she said.

The issue of hiring diverse staff matters especially for Democrats because women and minorities make up a disproportionately large proportion of their electoral coalition.

Voters of color make up some 40 percent of the Democratic base, Allison said. But PowerPAC+ had previously found that less than two percent of the money the Democratic Party spent on consultants over the past two election cycles went to firms with minority ownership.

And a study by the New Organizing Institute, a progressive group, found that Democrats pay black staffers 30 perecent less than their white counterparts.

“There is a real glass ceiling to what positions people who look like me or come from where I’m from could have gained within that network. And that hurts,” said Nigel Tann, an African American political operative who was a regional field director for Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign.

Female campaign staffers and people of color are starting to get serious, Democrats told The Daily Beast, becoming adamant about making campaign staff diversity an undercurrent of 2016 political races.