PEOPLE

Mo Elleithee Follows in Brad Woodhouse’s Footsteps With New Role at DNC

Cool customer: Elleithee hopes to avoid "gotcha" politics.
National Journal
Sept. 8, 2013, 8 a.m.

Mo El­leithee doesn’t seem like your typ­ic­al Wash­ing­ton in­sider. Des­pite dec­ades spent in the par­tis­an mes­saging wars, the new com­mu­nic­a­tions dir­ect­or of the Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee is re­fresh­ingly sin­cere, low-key, and — for now, at least — not in­ter­ested in con­ven­tion­al polit­ic­al the­at­rics.

Two weeks in­to the job, El­leithee talks pas­sion­ately, but evenly, about “telling the big­ger story” of the Demo­crat­ic plat­form, and he hit on themes of “ex­pand­ing op­por­tun­ity” for all Amer­ic­ans dur­ing his in­ter­view with Na­tion­al Journ­al Daily. He is not shrink­ing from the loom­ing con­flicts with Re­pub­lic­ans, he prom­ises, but he hopes to el­ev­ate the con­ver­sa­tion above re­duct­ive, par­tis­an snip­ing.

“I will be force­ful,” El­leithee says. “I will have fun on Twit­ter with [Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee Com­mu­nic­a­tions Dir­ect­or] Sean Spicer. But at the same time, I hope I can “¦ add to an ac­tu­al dis­cus­sion and a de­bate rather than just gotcha polit­ics.”

El­leithee, a first-gen­er­a­tion Amer­ic­an, grew up in south­ern Ari­zona. His Egyp­tian-im­mig­rant par­ents were largely loy­al Re­pub­lic­ans — save for a vote for Jimmy Carter in 1976, in no small part be­cause he brokered the Camp Dav­id Ac­cords between Egypt and Is­rael — un­til the mid-1990s, a con­ver­sion for which their son jok­ingly takes cred­it. Early on, the Kennedys and Mario Cuomo in­spired El­leithee’s re­bel­lion to the left. He says he was a “polit­ic­al geek” in high school, go­ing as far as play­ing pres­id­en­tial hope­ful Mi­chael Duka­kis in a mock de­bate. His peers deemed El­leithee the de­bate champ — but, like Duka­kis, he lost the elec­tion.

Geor­getown Uni­versity lured El­leithee to Wash­ing­ton to study in­ter­na­tion­al polit­ics, but he wasn’t sure that work­ing in this town was his call­ing un­til after a few wrong turns. He took the For­eign Ser­vice test after gradu­at­ing but didn’t score high enough to make the no­tori­ously com­pet­it­ive grade. Think­ing the law might be a suit­able al­tern­at­ive but not quite ready to re­turn to school just yet, El­leithee let the grav­ity of life pull him to­ward a job as a leg­al as­sist­ant at a Wall Street firm. It didn’t take him long to real­ize the world of the moneyed elite wasn’t for him, un­abashedly ad­mit­ting that he “hated every minute of it.”

El­leithee re­calls go­ing home ex­as­per­ated from one “par­tic­u­larly bad day at work,” mak­ing him­self some din­ner, and plop­ping down in front of the TV. It was Elec­tion Day 1994, a his­tor­ic and un­for­get­table day for both parties, and a turn­ing point for El­leithee.

“I watched the re­turns come in,” he re­mem­bers. “And I watched the blood­bath. I watched Ann Richards go down in Texas. I watched Mario Cuomo, my hero, go down in New York. And I said, “˜That’s what I’ve got to go do.’ That was the mo­ment.”

Newt Gin­grich’s “Re­pub­lic­an re­volu­tion” awakened El­leithee’s polit­ic­al pas­sions, and soon after, he heard about a gradu­ate pro­gram at George Wash­ing­ton Uni­versity for would-be cam­paign man­agers. He fin­ished his de­gree in 1996 be­fore be­gin­ning an ec­lect­ic ca­reer in polit­ic­al ad­vocacy and com­mu­nic­a­tions that has cut across loc­al, state, and na­tion­al levels.

El­leithee’s lengthy résumé be­lies his age — just 40 — and could double as a Demo­crat­ic Party “Who’s Who.” His ca­reer in­cludes stints with Tom Ud­all, Bill Brad­ley, Janet Reno, Wes­ley Clark, Tim Kaine, and Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton. El­leithee is also a found­ing part­ner of Hill­top Pub­lic Solu­tions, a Belt­way-based polit­ic­al con­sult­ing firm. (He’s on a leave of ab­sence.)

El­leithee has notched nu­mer­ous cam­paign vic­tor­ies — and de­feats — but he says work­ing on Clin­ton’s 2008 pres­id­en­tial cam­paign ranks among his most per­son­ally mem­or­able gigs.

“Go­ing to Hil­lary Clin­ton ral­lies and see­ing blue-col­lar dads hoist­ing their daugh­ters up on their shoulders, say­ing, “˜That can be you someday,’ but then go­ing to a Barack Obama event and see­ing young Afric­an-Amer­ic­an fath­ers hoist their chil­dren up on their shoulders and say the same thing,” El­leithee says, be­fore paus­ing to gath­er his thoughts. “Even though I was on the los­ing side of the primar­ies, I was still proud to be part of the pro­cess.”

As for the in­cess­ant spec­u­la­tion about Clin­ton’s 2016 am­bi­tions, El­leithee says he has no clue what she’s think­ing but is dis­mayed at the grow­ing power of spe­cial in­terests in mold­ing the polit­ic­al nar­rat­ive. He says he hopes his perch at the DNC will help him re­store some con­trol to every­day people and grass­roots move­ments.

“One of the reas­ons I took this job was be­cause I was get­ting sick of look­ing out there at all these su­per PACs already gear­ing up, and a proxy cam­paign already be­ing waged about 2016 between pro-Hil­lary forces, anti-Hil­lary forces — and she hasn’t even de­cided what she’s go­ing to do,” he says. “I am not pre­pared to con­cede or to out­source the Amer­ic­an polit­ic­al pro­cess to these out­side groups.”

As for El­leithee’s plans for the DNC, he says he wants to tell “the story” of a Demo­crat­ic agenda that “will help cre­ate and ex­pand op­por­tun­ity for all Amer­ic­ans.” He adds, “We’re go­ing to proudly wave the flag of the Obama agenda and push ag­gress­ively as we can. That will be our primary fo­cus.”

Brad Wood­house, El­leithee’s pre­de­cessor at the com­mit­tee, who now is run­ning Amer­ic­ans United for Change, be­lieves the new guy’s style will serve the DNC well.

“He very much fits the Obama mold of no drama, very low-key, even-tempered,” Wood­house con­firms. “He nev­er gets too hot, nev­er gets too cold. And I think that’s the type of per­son­al­ity that can dis­agree without be­ing dis­agree­able.”

El­leithee is mar­ried to Tali Stein, a con­sult­ant; they have two chil­dren, 3-year-old Sad­ie and 5-month-old Oliv­er.

Of­fer­ing that run­ning for of­fice is def­in­itely “not for me,” El­leithee wraps up his in­ter­view with NJ Daily with a sheep­ish ad­mis­sion, be­fit­ting his groun­ded style.

“I’m so glad this is over, be­cause talk­ing about my­self is ac­tu­ally one of my least fa­vor­ite things,” he con­fesses. “I’m so used to talk­ing about something big­ger.”

What We're Following See More »
WOULD HAVE CROSSED NATIONAL FORESTS
Federal Judges Nix Proposed Atlantic Pipeline
1 hours ago
THE DETAILS

In a rare rebuke to energy companies in the Trump era, "a panel of federal judges has rejected permits for the Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline to cross two national forests and the Appalachian trail in Virginia, finding that the national Forest Service 'abdicated its responsibility' and kowtowed to private industry in approving the project. The harshly worded, 60-page decision issued Thursday by three judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is part of a string of legal setbacks for the 600-mile pipeline. The $7 billion project, being built by a consortium of companies led by Dominion Energy, is planned to carry natural gas from West Virginia, through Virginia and into North Carolina."

Source:
PINS KHASHOGGI KILLING ON MBS
Senate Moves to End Support for Saudi War
2 hours ago
WHY WE CARE
REP. POLIQUIN HAD CHALLENGED THE LAW
Federal Judge Upholds Ranked-Choice Voting in Maine
4 hours ago
THE LATEST

"A federal judge on Thursday rejected Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s constitutional claims against ranked-choice voting and denied the incumbent’s request for a new election against Democratic Congressman-elect Jared Golden. U.S. District Court Judge Lance Walker ruled that, contrary to the arguments of Poliquin’s legal team, the U.S. Constitution does not require that whichever congressional candidates receives the most votes—or 'a plurality'—be declared the winner. Instead, Walker ruled the Constitution grants states broad discretion to run elections."

Source:
SAUDI ARABIA, ISRAEL, AND THE UAE
Mueller Probing Middle East Countries' Influence Campaigns
4 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Officials working under Special Counsel Robert Mueller are investigating Middle Eastern countries' attempts to influence American politics, and are set to release the findings in early 2019. "Various witnesses affiliated with the Trump campaign have been questioned about their conversations with deeply connected individuals from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Israel ... Topics in those meetings ranged from the use of social-media manipulation to help install Trump in the White House to the overthrow of the regime in Iran." Investigators are also probing meetings organized by Lebanese-American businessman George Nader, and Joel Zamel, "a self-styled Mark Zuckerberg of the national-security world with deep ties to Israeli intelligence."

Source:
HEADS TO TRUMP FOR SIGNATURE
Congress Passes Sexual Harassment Reforms
4 hours ago
THE LATEST
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login