President George W. Bush once described political operative Donna Brazile as a Democratic Party “attack dog” because of her relentlessly aggressive modus operandi. Brazile has played a prominent role in the management of a number of political campaigns.
Born in New Orleans in 1959, Brazile earned a degree in industrial psychology from Louisiana State University. After graduating, she worked for a number of advocacy and lobbyist groups in Washington, DC, including the National Student Education Fund and the Community for Creative Non-Violence. She first drew widespread public notice in 1981 as the National Student Coordinator for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Committee, which petitioned to make the late civil rights leader's birthday a national holiday. In 1983 Brazile helped Coretta Scott King organize a 20th anniversary commemoration of the historic 1963 March on Washington.
In 1976 and 1980, Brazile worked on the presidential campaigns of Jimmy Carter. In 1984 she served not only as deputy campaign manager for presidential hopeful Jesse Jackson, but also as a Director of Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition. After Jackson dropped out of the race for President, Brazile worked on the campaign of the Democratic nominee, Walter Mondale (and his running mate Geraldine Ferraro). In 1988 Brazile worked for Representative Richard Gephardt's presidential campaign. When that was derailed, she went on to assist in the campaign of that year's eventual nominee, former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis.
Brazile’s often volatile, impudent manner has repeatedly gotten her into trouble. In 1988, for instance, Dukakis fired her for making unfounded accusations that George Bush, Sr.’s presidential campaign discriminated against minorities, and for spreading unsubstantiated rumors that the soon-to-be-President was having an extramarital affair.
From 1990 through 1999, Brazile was a consultant to the Democratic National Committee. She also served as chief of staff to Washington, DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.
In 1996 Brazile was a Regional Director for the Democratic presidential ticket of Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Three years later, she began working for Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign -- first as Gore’s national political director and deputy campaign manager, and later as his chief campaign manager, making her the first African American woman to head a presidential campaign.
During her time as manager of Gore’s campaign, Brazile charged that Republicans had no real respect for African Americans; that instead of doing something to substantively help the black community, they were content to merely exploit a handful of select black conservatives whose token presence was designed to conceal the party's underlying bigotry. She stated, for instance, that Republicans “bring out Colin Powell and J.C. Watts because they have no program, no policy. . . . They’d rather take pictures with black children than feed them.” Gore later apologized to Powell for Brazile’s remarks.
After the 2000 presidential election controversy in Florida, Brazile was appointed Chair of the Democratic National Committee's Voting Rights Institute. She alleged (as she again would do in 2004) that Republicans had sought to keep minorities away from the polls through the use of voter suppression and intimidation tactics. Wrote Brazile: “As Chair of the DNC's Voting Rights Institute, I was astounded to learn just how dysfunctional our electoral system has become and why this is a serious impediment to successful elections for Democratic candidates at all levels. It's time for Democrats to get smart about election administration and take an active role in cleaning up laws and adopting new ones to protect every citizen's right to vote.”
Brazile has been employed as a lecturer and an adjunct professor at a number of universities, including Georgetown and the University of Maryland at College Park. She is a fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. And she is the founder and Managing Director of Brazile and Associates, which works to promote Brazile’s speaking engagements and writings, including her 2004 memoir Cooking with Grease: Stirring the Pots in American Politics.
In 2004, Brazile made the following recommendations outlining how John Kerry could beat George W. Bush in that year’s presidential elections:
“The Kerry-Edwards ticket needs to find the one, overarching negative message about Bush that you want voters to hear time and time again. Why not say, ‘President Bush can’t be trusted, is too extreme, etc.’? Team Kerry must get up every day and put in place events, developments, news, surrogates that drive the negative message. The campaign should recognize that you are either on offense scoring points and moving the ball downfield or on defense being scored upon. Thus, the Kerry-Edwards campaign must divide each week up like it as an inning and try to score some points.”
Brazile has personally made monetary campaign contributions to a number of Democratic political candidates, including Hillary Clinton, Corrine Brown, Al Gore, Kweisi Mfume, and Jesse Jackson.