February 12, 2016 at 10:35 am EST | by Chris Johnson
Clinton supporters to Robby Mook: Time to change the message
Hillary Clinton, gay news, Human Rights Campaign, HRC, Washington Blade

Hillary Clinton supporters say it’s time for a change in messaging. (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas)

After the Democratic primary results in Iowa and New Hampshire, supporters of Hillary Clinton have some advice for gay campaign manager Robby Mook: Time to change the messaging.

Several gay Clinton supporters who spoke to the Washington Blade said Mook should remain with the campaign, but change the way the candidate is articulating her message.

Hilary Rosen, a lesbian and D.C.-based Democratic activist, praised Mook and said the problem isn’t operational.

“He is a great operative and an inspiring leader,” Rosen said. “I don’t think the problems the campaign is having are really connected to the operations. It seems obvious that Hillary’s message of being a pragmatic progressive isn’t gaining traction among a significant enough portion of the party and leaning independents. That is a message and style factor, not an operational one.”

Jimmy LaSalvia, a gay independent and former Republican who endorsed Clinton, agreed Mook’s leadership is strong, but the campaign messaging isn’t.

“Mook has made his name as a top-notch organizer and tactician,” LaSalvia said. “That’s his strength. Organizers can only perform if there is a message to organize around. Clinton needs to find someone who is not from her past or from the political establishment to help her to craft a message based on modern anti-establishment political realities. Then, Mook can shine by organizing around that message. Keep Mook, but get help crafting a modern message.”

In a blog post titled, “Tough Love for Clinton,” LaSalvia highlighted what he feels are messaging problems. Among them are casting the race as Democrat vs. Republican, getting bogged down in the definition of the word “progressive” and campaigning in New Hampshire in the state with women supporters from the U.S. Senate, all of which he called emblematic of an “establishment” candidate.

Clinton may have found that new message Thursday night when during her closing statement at the Democratic debate she sought to differentiate herself from Bernard Sanders by saying she’s not “a single-issue candidate,” identifying LGBT rights as an issue she wants to pursue aside from economic justice.

But even before the New Hampshire primary, media reports indicated rumblings of a campaign shakeup after a virtual tie in Iowa, expectations of a devastating loss in New Hampshire and an enduring email controversy. This week, Politico reported Hillary and Bill Clinton were so dissatisfied they were considering strategy changes at her Brooklyn headquarters ahead of earlier plans to reevaluate the campaign after the first four primary states.

If Mook were cut loose, the situation would be similar to 2008 when Clinton terminated Mark Penn as strategist after stinging losses to Barack Obama during the Democratic primary.

Immediately upon the announcement of the results in New Hampshire and the revelation Clinton would lose the state by more than 20 points, Mook leaked a memo to media outlets indicating the days ahead would be better as contests approach in the more diverse states of Nevada and South Carolina. Polls indicate black and Latino Democrats are more eager to support Clinton than Sanders, although those polls were conducted before the New Hampshire results.

“It will be very difficult, if not impossible, for a Democrat to win the nomination without strong levels of support among African-American and Hispanic voters,” Mook writes in the three-page memo. “And a Democrat who is unable to inspire strong levels of support in minority communities will have no credible path to winning the presidency in the general election.”

A top Democratic strategist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Iowa and New Hampshire were early in the primary process and the results were expected, but things will improve.

“While there are a couple of bumps along the way, in the long run Mook will prove to be a masterful strategist and manager,” the strategist said.

The strategist downplayed complaints about the campaign as “grousing.” The email controversy, the strategist said, was a “screw-up that happened” and said Republicans won’t ever let go of it. While Clinton has performed poorly among Millennials, the strategist said he expects them to support her in the general election because she shares their support for LGBT rights, the environment and women’s rights.

Other gay Clinton supporters who spoke to the Blade gave their enthusiastic support to Mook despite the Iowa and New Hampshire results.

Lane Hudson, a gay D.C.-based Democratic activist, said without Mook’s leadership Iowa would have been a loss for Clinton.

“Robby built the best ground game ever seen in the Iowa Democratic Caucus,” Hudson said. “With the level of turnout on caucus night, all models predicted a Sanders win, but his ground game managed to eke out a victory. In New Hampshire, we were down 30 points a week before the primary and lost by 20. I am confident that the ground game in the upcoming states of Nevada and South Carolina and beyond are also superior to the opponent’s ground game, while also having demographics more favorable than the almost entirely white demographics of Iowa and New Hampshire.”

JoDee Winterhof, the Human Rights Campaign vice president for policy and political affairs, said Clinton has “made it a priority to put the fight for LGBT equality front and center throughout her campaign” and Mook is a good match for the candidate.

“Robby is a strategic and talented leader, and I can’t think of anyone better to be leading Secretary Clinton’s campaign,” Winterhof said. “Because of the organization he has helped build, Secretary Clinton is now heading into several states where she is leading and has enormous grassroots strength.”

Winnie Stachelberg, a lesbian and executive vice president of external affairs at the Center for American Progress, praised Mook.

“Robby is in charge and should remain in charge,” Stachelberg said. “Robby has said from the beginning this is a long campaign. This is not a campaign about two states or four states, this is a campaign that’s going to be waged in 20 states. It’s competitive and complicated, and he’s done a good job and will continue to do so.”

Joe Solmonese, former president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the race was never going to be easy with Sanders campaigning against Clinton.

“Robbie Mook is a brilliant and universally well-respected leader within the campaign,” Solmonese said. “I think that he would say that with Sen. Sanders in the race, the nature of the first two deciding states would always be a challenge for Secretary Clinton. He’s playing the long game here and has a long-term vision for how Hillary Clinton will both emerge as the Democratic nominee and, ultimately, win in November.”

The Clinton campaign directed the Blade to reach out to Clinton’s LGBT supporters for evaluation of Mook as campaign strategist.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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