THE CLASS OF 2004: The Campaign Managers

Sunday, October 17, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:54 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

There’s a young Republican and an aging Democrat.

There’s a fresh-faced college graduate and a seasoned political operative.

There’s a kid brother and a political mercenary.

There’s a life-long friend and a doting cat owner.

And there are a whole lot of lawyers.

Like the candidates they represent, the men and women engineering Missouri’s statewide political campaigns this election season are in many ways diverse, but in other ways strikingly similar.

Although a few were eager to talk about themselves, most were reluctant to stray from the usual campaign script. Some ignored repeated re-quests for interviews.

Numerous trends surfaced during a series of interviews with the campaign managers including the predominance of a legal and political educa-tion, the influence of prominent Missouri politicians and a peculiar dedication to a demanding and often thankless job.

But more than that, one finds a crop of men and women eager to play their part in the drama of American politics.

Kid brother vs. presidential campaign staffer

It was only months ago that Erik Greathouse was plying for votes in cities such as Nashua, Concord and Manchester, N.H., trying to strengthen Gephardt’s presidential campaign among sheep ranchers and factory workers in the New England state that holds the second presidential primary each year. Once the head of Gephardt’s New Hampshire campaign, Greathouse now manages the campaign of Missouri Democratic gubernatorial nominee Claire McCaskill.

“I always tell people that campaigns are like a business,” Greathouse said. “It’s like a 10- to 15-million-dollar business, and my job is like the CEO of this company.”

Greathouse’s background stands in contrast to the man running Republican gubernatorial candidate Matt Blunt’s campaign. That person is Blunt’s younger brother, Andy. Both are the sons of Roy Blunt, Missouri’s veteran GOP congressman from southwest Missouri.

Andy Blunt is a Jefferson City lawyer who managed his brother’s successful campaign for secretary of state four years ago. The younger Blunt failed to return several phone calls asking for an interview.

Greathouse, however, was more than willing to talk about his past campaign efforts.

Before serving as Gephardt’s state director for New Hampshire, Greathouse was national finance director for Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon’s 1997 U.S. Senate race. He has also served as chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Mike Ross of Arkansas.

In Colorado, Greathouse managed Mike Feely’s unsuccessful bid for a seat in Congress. Feely lost by 122 votes, the closest margin of defeat in Colorado’s history.

Coming off the Gephardt campaign in New Hampshire, a state with only two congressional districts, Greathouse is now neck deep in the stew of Missouri politics.

Although he’s concentrating most of his efforts in the urban centers of St. Louis and Kansas City, the McCaskill campaign isn’t forgetting rural Missouri as many rural Democratic legislative seats are threatened in the upcoming election.

“Claire is now the leader of the state party, and in that capacity she obviously wants us to take back the House and the Senate,” Greathouse said.

Greathouse said he is unsure where he’ll end up after the November elections. He’d like to stay in Missouri and be involved with the McCaskill administration but only time will tell whether he’ll end up managing another “company.”

Seizing the opportunity

Chuck Caisely, who’s managing the campaign of Republican secretary of state candidate Catherine Hanaway, said he enjoys the people he works with in the political circuit.

“What I like about working on campaigns is the people I work for. I’ve been really lucky to work for people I believe are very good; good leaders and good people,” Caisley said.

Caisley, 31, a father of one from St. Louis, was also Hanaway’s campaign manager when she ran for the Missouri House of Representatives in 1998.

He began working on campaigns in 1994 as a senior at the University of Illinois. Caisley was inspired by a speech Gov. Jim Edgar delivered at his school.

“I really liked him; liked what he stood for. I was already a conservative, so I signed up to volunteer for his campaign, and it blossomed from there,” Caisley said.

He attended law school at St. Louis University and met Hanaway during his first semester while interning for U.S. Sen. Kit Bond. That was 10 years ago.

Caisley has served as Hanaway’s chief of staff for the six years she has been a state representative. In 2002 he was executive director of the House Republican Committee.

Like the other managers, Caisley has developed no concrete plans for after the election.

The campaign of Robin Carnahan, Hanaway’s Democratic opponent, is managed by Mindy Mazur, another veteran of Gephardt’s presidential organization. Mazur, 27, temporarily left her husband, Jeff, and cat, Stripes, in Washington to begin working for Gephardt’s campaign in Oklahoma in October 2003. When Gephardt withdrew from the race, Mazur switched to Gen. Wesley Clark’s campaign until he, too, conceded victory to even-tual Democratic nominee John Kerry.

Mazur now is managing her first campaign. She said she never considered entering politics until she developed a “curious addiction” to C-SPAN in college.

After taking a job as a legislative aide to Missouri Congressman Ike Skelton in Washington, Mazur said she knew she wanted to work on the campaign side of politics.

As a campaign manager, Mazur joked that she commands thousands and thousands of active Carnahan supporters everyday. She said she loves the job, though she misses meals and hours of sleep.

“When you believe in a candidate and believe you are doing something good for your state, that’s what it is all about,” Mazur said.

Mazur is a St. Charles native and MU graduate. After earning her degree, she continued her education by taking night classes at George Wash-ington University while working for Skelton. She graduated with a master’s in political management in the summer of 2003. After that, she said, she knew she wanted to work on a presidential campaign.

“I felt I would be missing an opportunity if I didn’t have presidential campaign experience,” Mazur said. “I think that is an important experience that people in our field should have.”

Mazur said that she is unsure of her plans after Nov. 2, though she does look forward to seeing her husband and Stripes.

The non-Missourian

While most of the statewide campaign managers have ties to Missouri, Bekki Cook’s manager has spent only the past few months in the state.

Norm Sterzernbach, 29, moved to Cape Girardeau in May to take over Cook’s Democratic campaign for lieutenant governor. He is a veteran of campaigns in Iowa, Minnesota, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Sterzenbach said he’s hooked on the unpredictable and fast-paced atmosphere of political campaigns and can’t see himself settling down to the regimented work of elected office.

“Every day you wake up and you have an idea of what you’re going to do that day,” Sterzenbach said. “By about 11 in the morning everything has changed, and you’re focused on something different.”

A native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Sterzenbach was raised in a family active in organizing labor unions but never considered politics as a career option until a summer job he took after college.

“My dad had me work for the Democratic Party, and I fell in love with it right away,” Sterzenbach said.

Ben Jones is managing the campaign of Republican lieutenant governor candidate Peter Kinder. He did not return repeated phone calls request-ing an interview.

The lifelong Missourian

Unlike Sterzenbach, the campaign manager for the GOP candidate for attorney general is a life-long Missourian.

Chad Davis was born and raised in Branson. He earned his bachelor’s degree in political science at the College of the Ozarks and a law degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Although this is Davis’ first stint managing a campaign, he is no stranger to politics — he worked as a political science intern for Republican Congressman Roy Blunt’s campaign in 1998.

Davis said the experience from Blunt’s campaign turned out to be formative knowledge that has helped him in his journey as a first-time cam-paign manager for Chris Bryd’s campaign for attorney general.

Davis was a clerk in Byrd’s legal practice while attending law school from 1999 to 2001. He said he ventured away from practicing law to engage in politics because he is concerned about the direction in which the state is headed.

“I do not feel like this great state is where it needs to be,” Davis said. “It is my desire to help bring this state to a more prosperous status in the United States.”

Managing the campaign of incumbent attorney general Jay Nixon is Steve Brown, who would not grant an interview.

The lifelong friend

When Mark Powell decided to run for state treasurer, it was only natural that he ask longtime friend Phil Amato to manage his campaign.

“Basically every campaign that he’s ever run in his life I’ve been his campaign manager,” Amato said.

Amato also works full time as a sales representative for a large manufacturing company. He began his political career at 25 as the youngest elected official in the history of the city of Arnold. He served one term and was elected mayor pro tem in the second year. He then retired from city council for about 20 years.

During his 20-year absence from the city council, Amato led several advisory boards and commissions and ran Powell’s campaigns. When Powell decided to run for mayor of Arnold, he recruited Amato to come back to the city council.

“I told him when I ran for mayor, ‘Phil I will run for mayor, but I need you to run for the city council so we can run this as a team,’” Powell said.

Both won their respective elections, and Amato is again serving as mayor pro tem of Arnold.

Amato said the Powell bid for attorney general is a bit different than the traditional statewide campaign. Powell defeated better-funded oppo-nents in the Republican primary by taking his campaign on the road, a strategy he will employ as the November election approaches.

“It seemed to work on the first leg so we’ll see how it works for us now,” said Amato.

As the volunteer manager of the Powell campaign, Amato pointed to himself as another peculiarity of a statewide political bid. Many campaign managers are paid experts fresh out of college with political science degrees.

“I am a guy with a head full of gray hair who is 50 years old and running a statewide campaign,” Amato said.

Some advisers urged Powell to hire a professional public relations team to handle his campaign, but he decided to stick with what has worked in the past.

“I have a high degree of confidence in his commonsense ability and his ability to read the opponent, to read the political impact of decisions that are made,” Powell said. “I felt that by bringing in an outside source, … I would lose that contact with the local people.”

Powell is running against state Sen. Sarah Steelman, R-Rolla. Steelman’s campaign manager, Susie Snyders, was unavailable for an interview.

Missourian staff reporters BRET BENDER, ADAM BEHSUDI, DAVID FERRUCCI, KATHERYN MOHR and BEN WELSH contributed to this report.

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