Giant slayer

Mike Firestone, the 31-year-old campaign manager behind Maura Healey’s runaway win in the Democratic primary for attorney general, talks strategy.

You’ve guided the successful campaigns of newbie candidates such as Deval Patrick, Elizabeth Warren, Boston city councilor Michelle Wu, and now Maura Healey. What’s your secret? It’s all about doing the same direct, person-to-person voter contact that’s been done for 150 years in American campaigning, but doing it smarter. If Maura was going to be, let’s say, appearing at an event in the South Coast, we’d do door-knocking and phone calls into that community and work with our press team to maximize free media coverage in the area. We’d work over social media to engage, not just through Maura Healey on Facebook and Twitter, but with allies and supporters who live in those communities. We’d use our email list the same way.

What’s your get-out-the-vote strategy? You’ve got to be organized, have a clear plan, and be able to communicate that to a huge number of people.

How do you pick the candidates you’ll work with? I like smart, passionate progressives who are in it for the right reasons. I am a big champion for women candidates. I believe that our democracy is better when there are more perspectives involved, and, to do that, you have to have people who are willing to work on the campaigns. So I took a leave from law school to be part of the [Warren] campaign. When I graduated last year, I had some offers to go and do legal work, but I met Maura and I said to myself, she’s running for attorney general: that’s a lawyer.

You have a law degree and an undergraduate degree in history, both from Harvard. What sparked your interest in politics? My grandmother was a housing rights activist. She was a great believer in getting out there and speaking with people in her community, Allston-Brighton, which has had challenges with affordable housing and tenants’ rights. She would go door to door and she would take me along. I remember leafleting apartment buildings all around Commonwealth Avenue and Cleveland Circle, even when I was little. That’s really where I got my start.

Was Warren Tolman’s “unbecoming” comment the turning point in the Democratic primary race? I would really point to a couple of different moments. The first big one for us was that Maura nearly won the Democratic convention in Worcester in June, because she didn’t start with any base of support, even among grassroots activists. We focused laser-like on the delegates to the Democratic convention in the months before the event. So that was a big “wow!” The second was the response to our [Healey spinning a basketball] television ad. We didn’t have the money to run ads as long as our opponent did. But we thought that, if we could run two very strong weeks of television right when voters were starting to pay attention that were eye-catching and really conveyed the vibrancy of Maura’s personality and the strength of her experience, we would be in good shape.

Meet the Author

Gabrielle Gurley

Senior Associate Editor, CommonWealth

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

After Healey’s big primary win, how do you keep up the momentum? The advice that I got when I started as a volunteer on campaigns and all the way up has been to run like you are 10 points down every day.

So what happened in the tiny Berkshire County town of Hinsdale, the only place outside metro Boston that Healey lost big? Man, I do not know. A lot of staff just want to go out there, meet those folks, and make our case more directly.