Team players

A look at the rosters of players behind the major gubernatorial candidates

By Stephanie Ebbert
Globe Staff / October 11, 2010

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If all the recent drama in the governor’s race has shown us anything, it’s this: Behind each major candidate is a roster of advisers and aides whose identities and skills tell us something about their bosses. Republican Charles D. Baker’s team reflects the merger of his political and professional identities, with advisers from his time in the Weld administration and admirers from the business world. Governor Deval Patrick embodied change in 2006 but he is bringing back players from the idealistic team that drove his victory four years ago. Timothy P. Cahill’s staff, after a series of bruising defections, remains determined despite long odds. Here’s a peek behind the curtain of the campaigns.

Patrick updates ’06 formula

In a crowded alley near Sullivan Square, the Patrick campaign headquarters is teeming with energy. Young people with laptops crowd the common area, pizza gets handed around, and college-age volunteers arrive to work the phones.

The campaign’s Web guru, Charles SteelFisher, the architect of Patrick’s vaunted technology plan in 2006, is back behind the scenes. His handiwork helps link staff organizers and volunteers — including some 8,000 already recruited — with field director Clare Kelly, and with Brendan Ryan, the deputy campaign manager in charge of scheduling and operations.

“The DNA of the campaign is just talking to people,’’ says Ryan, who has a daily conference call with organizers to keep them energized.

All played a role in Patrick’s 2006 campaign, which built victory from the ground up.

Also back are the older veterans, Patrick’s top strategists who led his campaign last time around.

David Plouffe, the national consultant who helped shaped both Patrick and President Obama’s images, is again advising (though his colleague on both campaigns, David Axelrod, is now working in the White House).

Senior adviser Doug Rubin, who ushered both Cahill and Patrick to their first statewide victories, has stuck with Patrick, in the same role.

And John Walsh, Patrick’s 2006 campaign manager, is now coordinating election efforts for Patrick and Democrats across the state as chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party.

“Massachusetts is loaded with political talent. It’s an export business for this,’’ said Walsh. “The governor’s campaign wasn’t built from that. It’s built from the ground. These young kids who are literally making decisions, running the show, don’t come from that world. They’re home-grown.’’

This campaign’s manager is 29-year-old Sydney Asbury, who volunteered for the 2006 campaign while studying for law school and working at the Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics and ended up handling policy for the campaign.

“Everyone’s here because of Deval Patrick and Tim Murray,’’ Asbury said. “This is so important to all of us. There’s not a single person I couldn’t call in the middle of the night.’’

Old, new mix in Baker fold

Republicans historically have had little need to build up a huge stable of operatives in Massachusetts. So it should probably come as no surprise that Baker’s team is led by many of the same people who helped steer past gubernatorial campaigns.

Consultant Rob Gray, media strategist Stuart Stevens, and pollster Neil Newhouse have been working on Republican campaigns since William F. Weld’s first bid in 1990, the post-Dukakis year of voter angst to which this election cycle is often compared. But along with Baker’s campaign manager, Tim O’Brien, the trio also was steering the ship for the most recent Republican loss in a gubernatorial contest — Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey’s unsuccessful campaign against Patrick four years ago, which critics derided as overly negative.

Stevens and his business partner, Russ Schriefer, who has joined him on campaigns since the Weld-Cellucci days, are national Republican strategists who won credit for the infamous ad showing US Senator John F. Kerry windsurfing, visually cementing the presidential nominee’s image as a flip-flopper who would move “whichev er way the wind blows.’’ They also worked for George W. Bush in 2000 and US Senator John McCain in his 2008 presidential bid.

At the corporate headquarters in an office building on the South Boston waterfront, they are often joined by Kristen Lepore, who worked with Baker as a fiscal policy analyst in the Weld administration and later at Massport. Mindy d’Arbeloff, a childhood friend of Baker’s who worked for years as a special events coordinator and a vice president of the Lyons Group, now coordinates Baker’s fund-raisers. A top Baker adviser is John Brockelman, who worked with Baker in the Weld administration and headed the state Republican Party before leaving politics for a job at Fidelity Investments.

And connecting the field organization with the political team through technology is Kyle Armbrester, a 25-year-old who studied political theory and managed computer networks at Harvard and is now working on his MBA there. A fan of Baker’s work at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Armbrester became friendly with Baker and went to work for him as his campaign’s chief information officer.

“Connecting to voters was always important to Charlie and he wanted my help doing that,’’ Armbrester said.

Gray, the Massachusetts-based Republican consultant, compared Baker’s campaign team to Mitt Romney’s staff in 2002. “It’s an amalgam of old Republican political hands and completely new people from the private sector who haven’t worked on campaigns in the past,’’ he said.

“There’s a lot of new people, especially in the Internet world and the fund-raising world, who haven’t done campaigns before, but . . . were energized by Charlie.’’

Small Cahill corps pushes on

The Cahill campaign staff was already used to multitasking. It had to be, with fewer than a dozen people folded into a quiet office building near Interstate 93 in Quincy.

“People are comfortable jumping into different roles,’’ said Amy Birmingham, who serves as both Cahill’s chief of staff and spokeswoman.

Then the inner workings of Cahill’s campaign exploded into public view last month, when the national Republican consultants Cahill had tapped bailed, followed by his campaign manager. Cahill, a longtime Democrat, had tried to cobble together a bipartisan team for his unorthodox independent campaign, but the experiment did not work out.

Cahill’s former running mate, Paul Loscocco, also quit the race to endorse Baker on Oct. 1.

The losses have meant more multitasking for Scott Campbell, who was Cahill’s finance chief and political director. Now, he’s working as campaign manager, too.

Cahill’s relatively tiny team has believed in him since he was elected state treasurer in 2002 — or even longer. Even before Campbell worked on Cahill’s statewide campaigns for treasurer in 2002 and 2006, he campaigned for Cahill for Quincy City Council and his wife worked for Cahill’s food shop. Birmingham worked as his scheduler and deputy chief of staff in the treasurer’s office.

Newcomers include first-time-campaigner Juli Sweeney, 28, a Quincy native who previously worked as a TV reporter and anchor in upstate New York. She now works as press secretary and handles new media for the campaign.

And though the GOP consultants are gone, Cahill has on hand Dane Strother, a national consultant based in Washington, D.C., who has worked on US Senate and governor’s races for Democrats for 24 years.

“We’re in the fight,’’ Campbell said recently. “There isn’t a single bit of give-up in anybody in this room.’’

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