Elliott is the new campaign manager for Hagan, above. He says he is up to the challenge of helping re-elect one of the 2014 cycle’s most vulnerable incumbents.
Elliott’s journey included stints as an organizer on former Missouri Rep. Richard A. Gephardt’s presidential campaign in Iowa and for former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles’ unsuccessful 2004 Senate race, where he was assigned to the town of Wasilla.
“There were lessons that I learned that were fundamental in South Dakota, and a few of us went from there to Alaska and built off of those,” Elliott said. “Every state you have to take the lessons and adapt to the new technologies of the year, to the ground of the state, to what the laws are. And you have to keep improving on that model.”
In 2006, Elliott returned home to Montana to serve as a field director on the coordinated campaign for Tester, where he worked under Stephanie Schriock, a fellow Montanan who is now president of EMILY’s List. Elliott considers Schriock a mentor, along with Hall and former Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, another Montana native.
Growing up as a Republican in Montana, Elliott didn’t become a Democrat until college. His father, who once worked for a Republican governor, did the same after Elliott’s parents eventually moved to Utah. Elliott’s two brothers aren’t in politics, but one is a talent agent in Los Angeles with a client list that has included actors Russell Brand and James Marsden.
Much of Elliott’s management style came from his father, who made a career in hotel management. Hiring the right people and getting the best work possible out of them is a “crucial aspect” of managing in both business and campaigns, Elliott said.
Now, he is laying the groundwork for Hagan’s first re-election campaign; the North Carolina Democrat is among five incumbents running in states President Barack Obama lost in 2012. The Reid and Tester campaigns were notable for their formidable ground operations, and Elliott plans to adapt those to fit North Carolina.
The campaign already has a consulting team in place, including finance directors who helped Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill last year. Beyond raising money and spreading the word about Hagan’s work, the focus for the rest of the year will be on getting an infrastructure in place for what will likely be a competitive race.
“There is only so much you can control in politics, so you have to get a little bit zen about it and realize what’s out of your control,” Elliott said. “But the things you can control, you’ve got to hone in on them and do them well.”