Brad Woodhouse has spent most of his adult life picking—and often winning—political fights.
And he doesn’t plan to stop any time soon.
The longtime Democratic strategist started as president of the progressive Americans United for Change this week after stepping down as communications director for the Democratic National Committee, where he fought hard in the messaging wars over health care reform and the rise of the tea party.
“There is a space for a more aggressive approach, to match those groups you see funded by the Koch brothers and the Karl Roves or Romney operatives,” Woodhouse said. “We have to figure out what the right tools are, but one thing people can be confident in is that we will not employ the tools lightly.”
During his interview with National Journal Daily, Woodhouse, 45, used the word “aggressive” upward of a dozen times to describe his approach to advocacy and his upcoming plans with Americans United.
He is wasting no time in matching his words with action. Just two days into his new gig, Woodhouse was busy firing e-mail salvos to his mailing lists, goading House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to take a long cigarette drag because “you’re going to need it if you derail commonsense immigration reform,” and decrying the effects of sequestration on communities outside the Beltway.
Woodhouse attributes his love of politics to growing up in a political household in Raleigh, N.C., where his parents—Democrats heavily involved in local political races—“were very insistent on us watching the news.” Woodhouse wasn’t always sure he wanted to be a strategist, though—he spent a year as a theater major at the University of South Carolina before eventually settling on political science, but it wasn’t until an unlikely Democratic governor from Arkansas ran for president that Woodhouse decided to dedicate his life to politics.
“Bill Clinton was accepting the nomination at the convention, and I said I want to be involved in that,” Woodhouse said.
After college, Woodhouse quit a job in hotel management in Birmingham, Ala., and volunteered back home in North Carolina on Democratic Rep. David Price’s congressional campaign. Woodhouse first moved to Washington in 1997 to work for Rep. Bob Etheridge, D-N.C., who had just been elected to his first term. He has also worked for then-Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., and for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee during the 2004 election. His previous stint with Americans United was in 2005, when he served as communications director in the effort to beat back President Bush’s plan to reshape Social Security. He’s coming off five years at the DNC, where he is most proud of the team he helped assemble and the effort they put in to define Mitt Romney early on in the presidential campaign.
Partisans have a tendency to keep their distance from those they disagree with politically, but Woodhouse has little choice but to mingle. His wife, Jessica Carter, is chief of staff for conservative Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn.
Comparisons to the famously odd pairing of political consultants James Carville and Mary Matalin are hard to resist, Woodhouse concedes, “except my wife doesn’t want to get booked on TV to fight with me.” With two children ages 4 and 6, the couple does its best to avoid political shouting matches at home, he said.
“There’s a whole lot to talk about that doesn’t involve current affairs or what’s going on at work,” he added. “My wife and I have avoided some of the knockdown, drag-out fights we used to have.”
The same can’t be said for his relationship with his younger brother, Dallas Woodhouse, the state director of the North Carolina branch of the conservative Americans for Prosperity. A quick Google search will reveal a long list of on-air verbal altercations as well as articles highlighting the siblings’ rivalry. The brothers were especially contentious a few years ago during President Obama’s push to pass the Affordable Care Act.
“My mom likes to say, ‘I don’t know what happened, I rocked him in the same rocking chair,’ ” the elder Woodhouse joked.
Dallas Woodhouse says his big brother’s enthusiasm for a good political fight makes Americans United a perfect fit for him.
“I’ve always thought of him as wanting to beat the Republicans into the ground,” Dallas Woodhouse said. “There’s no better left-wing propagandist in Washington than my brother.”
Brad Woodhouse expects Americans United to focus heavily in the months ahead on messaging support for Obama’s health care law, but he also cites immigration and gun control as issues of interest. Whatever the debate, though, he is sure to make it a vocal one.
“I want to create some militancy on behalf of some progressive causes and on behalf of the people who believe government exists to smooth out the rough edges of society,” he says.
This article appears in the July 11, 2013 edition of NJ Daily as Aggressive Progressive.