Players: Blaise Hazelwood
Getting the Votes -- And the Kudos
Hazelwood Helped GOP to Victory With an Emphasis on Shoe Leather
By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 1, 2003; Page A17
When the history of the Republican Party's midterm election victories of 2002 is written, President Bush will get the headline and much of the credit, but a large footnote will go to a young political operative named Blaise Hazelwood.
Hazelwood, 31, serves as political director of the Republican National Committee (RNC), and it was her responsibility to coordinate the party's "72-Hour Project," an 18-month effort designed to put shoe leather back into politics and give Republicans parity -- or better -- with the Democrats in turning out the vote.
The work paid big dividends on Election Day, when a surge of Republican voters in states such as Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Missouri overwhelmed the Democrats and turned what many had called one of the most competitive midterm campaigns in history into a substantial Republican victory.
In some ways, Hazelwood was a natural to oversee the 72-Hour Project -- so called because of its emphasis on contacting voters in the final three days of the campaign. She began door-to-door canvassing as a 10-year-old in Arizona when her father was running for precinct committeeman, and she learned firsthand the value of human contact, meticulous organization and volunteer muscle in political campaigns.
"I always heard stories about my grandmother," Hazelwood said in an interview in her tiny office at RNC headquarters on Capitol Hill. Her grandmother was a campaign volunteer in the days before computers, when voter files were kept on index cards. "It was all personal contact, and it obviously worked," Hazelwood said.
Hazelwood may have inherited some of her grandmother's organizational skills. "She's got good intuition, and she's exceptionally well organized," said Matthew Dowd, senior adviser at the RNC. "And she'll do whatever it takes to get the job finished. She's not concerned about being the last person to leave the office or getting on an airplane to get the job done."
That made Hazelwood a near-burnout case long before Election Day as she monitored the progress of races and state parties around the country. Her weekend routine was a mind-numbing series of conference calls consuming as much as 16 hours in which she updated her checklists state by state: how many volunteers signed up; how many people on the streets; how much literature distributed; how many voters identified.
The overall goal was to flood precincts in competitive states with GOP volunteers going door to door in the final 72 hours of the campaign, a throwback that both Democrats and Republicans have rediscovered as an antidote to television ads.
Three weeks before the election, she recalled, all the planning and execution began to converge. "All of a sudden this one weekend, everything started clicking," she said. "All of the work that everyone had put into this for the past year and a half started happening."
Hazelwood's whole life is politics. She is a fifth-generation Arizonan whose grandfather was close to former senator Barry M. Goldwater at a time when Republicans were a minority in that state. She was president of Teen Republicans in Arizona (although she cringes now at the memory of that experience), and she was an intern on Capitol Hill and at the White House. She even named her new dog "George."
Despite her Arizona lineage, however, she was born a Washingtonian because her father was working at the Interior Department during the Nixon administration. She was named for St. Blaise, patron saint of throat illnesses. The name was chosen by her mother, who wrote a dissertation on the Roman Catholic saint while studying for a doctorate in early Christian art at Georgetown University. Hazelwood admits that being named after a little-known male saint caused confusion when she was younger.
After graduation from Vassar College, she landed a job as a staff assistant at the RNC, but shortly after the 1994 GOP landslide, her days appeared numbered. The new political director, Curt Anderson, was planning to clean house, and told Hazelwood and others they should start looking for work somewhere else.
"I didn't like that answer," she said. "I decided that I wanted to stay here, that I wasn't done at the RNC, so I started getting here at like six o'clock in the morning. He was a very early person, too. I would read the papers and brief him as he came in, do whatever I could to get his attention, and so he finally decided to keep me."
Her career since has been a succession of campaigns and grassroots organizing across the country, often anchored by positions at the national committee. She worked for Robert J. Dole's 1996 presidential campaign, for James S. Gilmore III's successful 1997 gubernatorial campaign in Virginia, and spent most of a year in Macomb County, Mich., trying unsuccessfully to unseat then-House Democratic Whip David E. Bonior.
After that campaign, she joined Anderson's political consulting firm, then in the summer of 2000 moved back to the RNC to help the Bush team manage its outreach to parts of the conservative coalition.
The 72-Hour Project was born of necessity after the 2000 election, when Republicans discovered that Democrats had done a better job of getting their voters to the polls in one of the tightest presidential races in history.
With prodding from White House senior adviser Karl C. Rove, White House political director Ken Mehlman and RNC Deputy Chairman Jack Oliver, the party undertook a top-to-bottom review of its get-out-the-vote operation, poured more than $1 million into more than 50 experiments to test how best to reach out to voters and then methodically set about implementing their findings in the midterm campaigns.
"I'm confident from the testing and from human life experience that making a volunteer telephone call or knocking on someone's door makes much more impact than just doing it paid," she said.
Republicans hope to expand their operation in the 2004 campaign, knowing that Democrats will redouble their efforts to match the GOP on the ground. Which is why as many in Washington were preparing for the holidays, Hazelwood was still trying to complete her checklist of things to do in 2002.
The RNC had set a goal of recruiting 250,000 volunteer team leaders around the country by the end of the year. "We're at 246,000," Hazelwood said a week before Christmas. "We're going to get there if it kills me."
© 2003 The Washington Post Company
Blaise Hazelwood, political director of the Republican National Committee, headed up the 72-Hour Project, contacting voters in the last three days of midterm campaigning.
(Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)
Title: Political director, Republican National Committee
Education: Bachelor's degree, Vassar College
Family: Married to Dan Hazelwood, no children
Career highlights: Director of Coalitions for Victory 2000 at the RNC; partner, the Anderson Group, 1999-2000; campaign manager for Brian Palmer, congressional candidate from Michigan, 1998; Coalitions Director for Jim Gilmore's gubernatorial campaign in Virginia, 1997; chief of staff to Pat Harrison, RNC co-chairman, 1997; worked in political division of Dole-Kemp campaign, 1996.
Pastimes: Hiking, outdoor activities.