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House campaign draws student to political front lines

Undergrad, alum assist in Mass. Democrat’s upset primary win over incumbent congressman

As prominent donors to Seth Moulton, the Democratic candidate to represent Massachusetts’ sixth district, strolled into the lobby of the Hawthorne Hotel in Salem, Massachusetts, they were greeted with a friendly handshake. “Hi, how are you? I’m Haley Scott.”

Haley Scott ’15.5 took this semester off to work full-time for Moulton’s congressional campaign, an operation with multiple ties to the Brown community and one that stunned the political world with an upset win in the Democratic primary Sept. 9.

Moulton beat U.S. Rep. John Tierney, D-M.A., for his party’s nomination, becoming the first Democrat to defeat  an incumbent Massachusetts congressman in a primary in 22 years.

Scott first heard of Moulton while working in the alum office of her alma mater, Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, a prestigious private boarding school that Moulton also attended. As part of an initiative to recognize alums who had served in the military, Moulton wanted to organize a special edition of the school’s magazine for the fall of 2011, according to the academy’s website. Scott said she contributed to the magazine because she had some editorial and design experience. Though she never met Moulton during this time, she decided to intern with his campaign because of “how amazing his story was,” she said.

Moulton brings to his candidacy a background as a veteran, businessman and academic who has garnered attention at a young age. After graduating from Phillips Academy, Moulton attended Harvard. He joined the Marine Corps in 2001 and served four tours of duty in Iraq, after which he returned to Cambridge to attend Harvard Business School and the John F. Kennedy School of Government. Moulton then worked for Texas Central Railway as a managing director and started his own business back in Massachusetts.

After interning with Moulton, Scott joined the campaign team full-time in August, working as a field coordinator until the primary. She organized canvases and phone banks in 10 of the 39 cities in Massachusetts. For the first week of classes, Scott juggled her full-time job and a full load of classes because she wanted to remain a full-time student in the event Moulton lost. After Moulton won, Scott decided to take the semester off, which she called an easy decision because school had been stressful before the primary.

Scott then became the campaign’s deputy finance director. “This is a very fluid team we work on,” Scott said of the campaign, adding it has a “very startup atmosphere.”

Having young staffers is an asset to the campaign because it engages young people in the political process, said Aaron Bartnick ’11, deputy campaign manager. “I think that young people, first-time candidates … and first-time campaign staffers all bring a fresh perspective to a process that a lot of people are pretty disenchanted with right now.”

Scott is the youngest member of the campaign staff, excluding Moulton’s personal assistant Cole Guyre, who is taking a gap year between high school and college.

In addition to the young staff members, the campaign also has an army of experienced consultants. Joe Trippi, former Vermont governor Howard Dean’s presidential campaign manager from 2004, runs Moulton’s ad operation, and Scott Ferson, a former press secretary for the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-M.A., handles communications, Bartnick added.

This combination of young energy and expertise makes for a “rockstar team,” Scott said.

Brown students and alums are well-represented in the campaign. In addition to Scott and Bartnick, both of Moulton’s parents Lynn ’70 and Thomas Moulton ’69 are alums.

Scott transitioned from field work to finance partly to bolster fundraising in response to the fundraising advantage of Moulton’s Republican opponent Richard Tiesi, a former Massachusetts state senator. Tiesi ran unopposed in the primary, which gave him more time to fundraise and allowed him to save money by not having to campaign against a challenger. Moulton’s campaign has raised almost $700,000 in the last three months, Scott said.

The latest numbers released by the Tisei campaign showed he raised $1.35 million as of Aug. 20. The Moulton campaign raised approximately $2.18 million by latest estimates, including $1.6 million by Aug. 20 and an additional $530,000 since then, the Boston Globe reported. The Moulton campaign raised nearly 60 percent of its donations from out-of-state supporters, compared to the Tisei campaign’s 24 percent out-of-state fundraising, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.

The campaign’s need to boost fundraising is “why the work that Haley’s doing is so important,” Bartnick said. “In a close race like this, every little bit makes a difference.”

Scott organized a fundraiser Tuesday, which consisted of a host committee reception for donors who gave at least $500, and a general reception for people who donated at least $25.

Most of her night was spent standing outside the door of the ballroom where the general reception was held swapping checks for nametags. Different colored stars decorated nametags depending on the level of giving: host committee members had gold stars, “patriots” who gave $150 had silver and staff members had blue stars. Scott said an important component of her job is “donor relations” so they continue to support the campaign.

Scott also has to wear many hats, simultaneously serving as a welcoming host and a keen political operative. At one point, a staffer walked briskly toward Scott, stood very close to her, and spoke discretely, motioning toward a man sitting near them with a laptop and a bag with video equipment. Scott retrieved Bartnick from the host committee reception to speak with the man while she continued to greet donors.

The campaign thought the man with the laptop might have been a tracker, Scott said, referring to someone working for the opposition who records candidates’ every word in case they slip up. Trackers can make a substantial impact, such as when a person recorded Mitt Romney at a private fundraiser in 2012 when he remarked that 47 percent of the American population does not pay income taxes.

But a couple minutes later, Bartnick came back over saying it was a false alarm, and that the man on the couch was doing a video contest for the movie “Paranormal Activity Four.”

Moulton’s stump speech at the event was polished and comprehensive. He knew exactly where to stop for applause and where to pause for laughter.

On the surface, Moulton is a polished speaker with an accomplished background. But beneath, there is a team of staff, volunteers and patrons putting stickers on nametags and ensuring the political operation runs smoothly. These, Scott said, are the kinds of things unknown except to those who have worked on a campaign.


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