Rebecca Pearcey joins weekly speaker series on 2020 elections

The Schar School of Policy and Government hosted Rebecca Pearcey on Sept. 22 to discuss politics, campaigning, the upcoming election and more


Steven Pearlstein, a Robinson Professor for Public Affairs and the moderator for the weekly political speaker series “First Tuesday,” invited guest Rebecca Pearcey to discuss her experience working as political director of the Elizabeth Warren campaign. Pearcey began her career in politics as a regional field director for the presidential campaign of Richard Gephardt in 1988, and in the following years directed a number of other campaigns before joining the Warren campaign in 2020.

 “The joy in campaigning is that it is something different every day, and you know there is an endpoint,” Pearcey said. “Think of it like project-based work that is very different, a lot of it is high pressure, but a lot of it is low pressure too and it is just making sure you have a plan to execute.”

Pearcey stated that campaigning was not a job that she knew she wanted to do right after college.

 “I took a job straight out of college working in a legislature in Oregon, and there we have a biannual session so when it is over, you are out of a job,” Pearcey said. “My boss was a state senator and she was very politically active in the Democratic Legislative Association of State Legislatures and she put me in contact with a campaign in Oklahoma.”

 Pearcey recalled how she took the job offer in Oklahoma without knowing much about campaigning or how to canvass.

 “I spent the entire summer of 2001 wandering the streets of Oklahoma City, and we were on this campaign that was destined to lose because our election day was Sept. 11,” Pearcey said. “From there, I just sort of got the bug.”

 During the first six years of her political career, Pearcey moved around different states, her mission being to go wherever there was good work. This included finding out which candidates she liked the best. Although not all the campaigns she worked on had candidates who won the race, she explained that she has learned a lot from the races that have lost.

 “I have gained more professionally and personally on the races that I have lost,” Pearcey said. “I feel like I have learned a lot from any campaign I have been a part of to date and that is just because of the management opportunities I was offered, which include managing over 30 people on the ground and being responsible for presidential visits.”

 As political director of the Warren campaign, Pearcey’s role was to liaise and advise the senator on her interactions with elected officials and Democratic party officials, build up a team who could garner support from those officials, and tap into the officials’ networks to help Warren in early states and Super Tuesday states.

 “I’d say in about March, the off-year of 2019, I added to my team the constituency organizing like Teachers for Warren and African Americans for Warren,” Pearcey said. “I also surrogate scheduling, and so when some of our validators and elected officials would want to travel, my team coordinated that.”

 She was also involved in delegate management. People who wanted to run for the delegate position had to go through a process to ensure that they were true blue Warren supporters, and Pearcey was in charge of that process.

 “The delegates wanted to be in Milwaukee with us, and so we processed about 20,000 applications for [delegates] and ended up having slates in all 57 states and territories,” Pearcey said.

 By the time Pearcey had built her team in July of 2019, she started traveling with Warren full time, which meant that she was able to direct Warren’s attention where she needed it — either on the road where Pearcey could give feedback on the state and what was happening or in the room with the public.

 “It ended up being a really big job and for the last six or so months, I lived on a plane or a bus or a minivan with the senator,” Pearcey said. “A lot of times, it would be really high-level conversations, but sometimes it was like, ‘Can we stop and get our burrito?’”

 Pearcey states that one thing she learned from her time on the Warren campaign, particularly in the field of politics, was that there was typically no animosity or grudges.

 “To me, that is something that I am really proud of the entire field for, just because it was something that everybody wanted so clearly badly but, you know, you’ve got half the Senate caucus running so you are going to be friends when this is over,” Pearcey said. “I learned that it can be nice.”

 The “First Tuesday” lecture series will continue each Tuesday at 9 a.m. from Tuesday, Sept. 15 through Tuesday, Nov. 10.