Guy Cecil is used to being the underdog.
The executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) helped Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) win his first election in 2010, fending off a tough primary and winning in spite of the huge GOP wave that year.
Last cycle, he helped Democrats expand their majority despite long odds. Now he’s back for another difficult fight, with Senate Democrats defending a tough map to retain their majority in the chamber.
“When I worked for Bennet, we spent a year and a month when I was with him with folks never saying it to our face necessarily but treating us as if we were going to lose,” he said. “Last cycle too, really until three or four months out, we went through most folks thinking that we were certainly going to lose seats and probably lose the Senate. And now, we find ourselves sort of in a similar situation, where folks expect us to lose seats.”
Bennet, now the DSCC’s chairman, credits Cecil for his win.
“It’s hard to imagine I would have won that election without Guy,” he said.
Cecil, 39, faces another tough task in 2014. Democrats are defending seven seats in red states as well as two open seats in swing states, and Republicans need to win six seats for control of the upper chamber. President Obama’s approval ratings are in the tank, further complicating his job.
Cecil credits his work as Hillary Clinton’s national political and field director during her presidential campaign for preparing him for his current role.
“Part of the way to survive and thrive in these jobs is to apply some perspective to all of the day-to-day mechanisms of campaigns. And I think the Clinton campaign helped me really do that,” he said.
Cecil has developed a personal relationship with the Clintons, especially Bill, who calls him on occasion to pick his brain about races. After Bennet was picked to run the DSCC, he and Cecil went to New York City to meet with the former president and talk strategy.
“Bill Clinton has been particularly generous with his time with me,” Cecil said.
Many believe that if the former first lady runs for president, as she appears likely to do, Cecil might be in line for another top campaign position. He declined to discuss his future plans, but made it clear he hopes Hillary Clinton runs.
“I have an enormous amount of respect for both of them. My focus is 2014, and I’m making sure we own the Senate in 2014, but obviously I would love for her to run for president,” he says.
Cecil has been a major player in Democratic strategy in recent years. Running Bennet’s campaign he helped develop the “war on women” strategy, painting their opponent, Ken Buck (R), as too conservative on social issues. Bennet’s narrow win was fueled by the largest gender gap in the country.
He also helped long-shot candidates like Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) win last cycle.
“It was an important political thing to do, but it was also the right thing to do, and it proved to be foreshadowing what the Republicans were going to be spending an enormous amount of their time on,” he says.
He’s close to a number of the senators he’s helped elect: Guests at his recent wedding included Bennet, Heitkamp, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who delivered a toast at the reception.
Another senator was there for his engagement, though that wasn’t planned. He and his longtime boyfriend, Ed McNulty, went out to a dinner to make their engagement official, Cecil said. “And coincidentally, Al Franken was sitting at the next table.
“That was a little …” Cecil trails off, laughing. “Fortunately there was a half-wall in between the two of us, so we weren’t actually seeing each other while we were eating dinner. We managed to get through it fine.”
For the wedding, the entire Senate Democratic Caucus signed a poster-sized note wishing the couple well. Franken’s inscription: “May you be as happy as Franny and I have been between years 1-8, 12-17, and 21-29.”
The note adorns his office, alongside photos of Cecil with the Clintons and Bennet, drawings from his nephew of “Star Wars” characters, a mini football helmet from his beloved Florida Gators, and a tongue-in-cheek note from notoriously disheveled Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), telling the well-dressed Cecil his socks and shirts “need a little color coordination.”
Bennet views Cecil more as a strategic partner and friend than employee. Both say it was a joint decision that they would run the DSCC this cycle.
“We’re very close friends. Our friendship extends far beyond politics; that’s only one part of what we talk about. He stayed in my basement the last six weeks of my campaign — my girls still refer to the room as Guy’s room even though it’s the guest room. He really was part of the family,” Bennet said.
“I never thought of him for working for me, I always thought of us as a team. That was true when he was my chief of staff, and it’s true now.”