Campaign managers wear many hats in local primaries

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Anna Marie Lux
Saturday, August 9, 2014

You won't see Fred Gray's name on any yard signs. Nor are you likely to hear his name in any public debates.

But Rock County Sheriff Bob Spoden sees him as the spark plug who keeps Spoden's campaign going.

Gary Groelle, a captain at the sheriff's office, had never been involved in a political race until March.

Today, he counts on Anissa Welch to successfully guide him in his bid to beat incumbent Spoden in Tuesday's primary.

Both Groelle and Spoden are on the Democratic ticket for Rock County sheriff. They depend on Welch and Gray, their campaign managers, to guide their daily activities. They also look to them as sounding boards, strategists and rock-solid advisers.

The Gazette reached out to candidates in three races to learn how campaign managers are making a difference in their bids for office. 

 “I respect Anissa's decisions,” Groelle said. “She has a big say about what we do each and every day.”

Welch has served on the Milton City Council since 2011. She also is a graduate of Emerge Wisconsin, a Progressive training program for women candidates, and Camp Wellstone, a similar Progressive training program for candidates and campaign workers.

Both she and Gray volunteer their time.

“This is about a lot of important issues,” Welch said. “This is about our whole county and what direction we want to go.”

She jumped in after making it clear that she could not take time off work as a juvenile probation officer with Rock County.

Groelle praises Welch's knowledge of campaign issues.

“She has a good feeling for what is going on in Milton and Janesville,” he said. “There's no way I could have had this campaign without her guidance or direction.”

Spoden is equally pleased with Gray.

“I trust Fred fully,” he said. “He's got a proven 2-0 record.”

This is Spoden's third campaign for sheriff and the third time Gray has taken charge.

“When you run for an office, you have peaks and valleys,” Spoden said. “Fred keeps an even keel about things. When I picked him, I wanted someone who has a take-charge attitude and who is organized. He is a real go-getter.”

Gray runs Gray Brewing of Janesville, a five-generation family business.

“You get involved in a campaign because you feel strongly about something or someone,” Gray said. “I care deeply about our community.”

He has been working with a campaign committee since March.

“This is important stuff,” Gray said. “I think it is our civic duty to get involved.”

15th Senate District

Sam Liebert originally thought about not getting involved in the primary elections. He is vice president of the Janesville City Council.

“I wanted to do what normal people do, like go on vacation,” he said. “But people in politics get the bug and can't stay out of it.”

He manages the campaign of Mike Sheridan for the 15thSenate District. In addition to Sheridan, Janis Ringhand and Austin Scieszinski are running on the Democratic ticket in the primary.

“The political bug bites me every year,” Liebert said. “I just love politics and campaigning.”

The 29-year-old quit his part-time job to work on strategic planning, developing an overall message and managing Sheridan's time.

“I always tell candidates that their time is finite,” Liebert said. “You have to spend your time wisely because you will never get it back.”

Liebert has experience as well as enthusiasm.

In 2007-08, he worked on the Obama campaign across the US. By the general election, he was on the senior staff in Florida, an important battleground state.

In 2010, Liebert moved back to Wisconsin to work on Tom Barrett's unsuccessful campaign for governor.

Liebert is paid for his work, but he says money is not the issue.

“You really have to be passionate about the candidate,” he said.

Liebert works 80 hours or more a week.

Sheridan said he selected Liebert because of his political background, organizational skills and ability to communicate well with people.

He calls Liebert an equal partner in making campaign decisions.

“We have a lot of spirited discussions about where the campaign should go,” Sheridan said. “He's rock solid. He has helped pull our campaign together.”

Jimmy Haggerty is Scieszinski's campaign manager.

Haggerty of Janesville is a data guru who sorts through political information to figure out where to put the campaign's resources.

“We don't have the deep pockets many Republicans have,” Haggerty said. “By looking at the statistics, we can better use our limited resources.”

Haggerty has mined data to find which people are most likely to vote in a primary, and he makes sure the campaign reaches them.

“It's a huge undertaking to sort through all the information,” Scieszinski said. “They say the last couple of decades have been defined by data collection. Now data mining is the future of political campaigns.”

Haggerty is paid, but he also strongly believes in the candidate.

“I have known Austin my whole life,” he said.

Haggerty has worked on eight political campaigns, most recently a Senate campaign in Philadelphia.

The campaign has a strong social media presence, but Scieszinski said there is no substitute for a personal conversation.

“This is a real Bill Proxmire kind of campaign,” he said, referring to the late Wisconsin senator known for getting out and meeting the public. “It is so important for me to talk to people and tell them about myself.”

Ringhand, who represents the 45thState Assembly District, does not have a campaign manager in her bid for state senate.

“I do the work myself,” she said. “I have been through several campaigns at the state level and have learned what is required. I schedule my time accordingly and print out walking lists and thank you letters.”

The effort is challenging.

“It's a lot of work, but I'm up to it,” she said.

The area of a Senate race is about three times bigger than the area she represents as a state representative.

“You need to attend a lot of public functions and knock on doors,” she said. “I know a lot of people who have campaign managers, but I find I am good at organizing my time. It is a matter of efficiency. I am very organized internally. I like to have everything in order and keep a tight calendar.”

43rd Assembly District

Leon Hebert of Fort Atkinson and Herschel Brodkey of Janesville are the Republican candidates in the primary for the 43rdAssembly District.

Neither have campaign managers.

“If I pass the primary, I'm going to have to get one because I know next to nothing about campaigns,” Hebert said.

Brodkey also will choose a campaign manager if he makes it to the next step.

“I've got a good team,” he said. “But I'll need someone on my side who will stick with me through the whole campaign, someone who will carry the schedule around all the time and someone who believes in you more than you believe in yourself.”

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.





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