A decade ago, Kelly Ward sat around a dining room table in Tucson, Ariz., with a trio of powerful Democratic women and Gabrielle Giffords, plotting the young state legislator’s next steps. It didn’t matter that the ink was hardly dry on Ward’s college diploma — her energy quickly made her an invaluable asset.
“She doesn’t sit still; she vibrates,” veteran Democratic activist Pam Sutherland said, describing the new Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee executive director’s contagious energy. Sutherland hosted the Giffords meeting back in 2003.
That energy will come in handy for Ward, 32, as she balances caring for her toddler, running a $180 million organization and planning her party’s takeover of the House of Representatives. It helps that she has never let her youth stop her from stretching her comfort zone.
The Las Vegas native insists that she grew up in a very normal family that emphasized equality and fairness over politics. She was raised by her mother, an elementary school teacher whom Ward now affectionately categorizes as a “drop-off voter,” her cab-driving stepfather and her father, a physician’s assistant who lived just minutes away.
In high school, Ward started to catch the political bug from Kirk Wallace’s 10th-grade history class and Maret LoGuidice’s 12th-grade government class, but she also got her first taste of fundraising when she desperately wanted to go on a weeklong trip to the nation’s capital, an outing her family just couldn’t afford.
“I tried it, it was really hard and I was terrible at it,” Ward said, laughing about the difficulty she faced in coming up with the $1,200 for the trip. “I learned that it’s important to know people with money ... and I didn’t.”
Ward chose the University of Arizona for college because it was both close enough to and far enough away from home — and it was the only college she’d ever been to, having visited as a flutist with her high school band. Ward immediately got involved with social justice groups, helped revive the school’s Young Democrats organization and started to comprehend the importance of electoral politics.
“It really matters who is in office,” Ward said. “It’s the most efficient and high-impact way to make a difference.”
After graduating in 2002, Ward turned down the opportunity to manage Giffords’ state Senate race because she needed a paying job. Ward ended up working as the field director for state Sen. Elaine Richardson’s losing campaign against Pima County Supervisor Raúl M. Grijalva in the 7th District primary before finishing the cycle with the state party.