After he pulled off a slim victory for Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s reelection, Mike Vlacich’s next challenge — running Hillary Rodham Clinton’s New Hampshire campaign — could appear less daunting.
Clinton is poised to do well in the crucial, first-in-the-nation presidential primary, thanks to her past success and lack of opposition. But Vlacich will have to manage expectations about turnout, as many independent New Hampshire voters — who are about 40 percent of the electorate — are expected to cast ballots in what will likely be a more competitive Republican primary.
“He has to make sure that his Democratic activists are motivated,” said Nick Clemons, who was New Hampshire state director for Clinton’s 2008 primary victory.
Clinton has not announced a bid for the 2016 presidential race, but people with knowledge of the situation said she has selected Vlacich as her state director. He is expected to bring his knowledge of New Hampshire voters to Clinton’s primary and general election campaigns in the Granite State.
“He’s the obvious number one choice for her,” said Colin Van Ostern, an executive councilor in New Hampshire who has known Vlacich for 14 years.
A longtime New Hampshire Democratic operative, Vlacich has worked on campaigns and in government in a state where politics is part of the community fabric. He is described as loyal to New Hampshire — a 41-year-old who is as comfortable in a room with high-tech entrepreneurs as he is with union leaders concerned about plant closings.
“I think the secret to his success is he is not seen as overly partisan,” said Clemons, who worked with Vlacich on Bill Clinton’s reelection campaign in 1996 and on Shaheen’s staff while she was governor. “I think that the campaigns and the candidates he’s worked for, both he and those candidates have taken a New Hampshire approach.”
Vlacich, who declined interview requests, managed Shaheen’s 2014 win in the most expensive Senate race in state history, in which she defeated Republican Scott Brown with 51.6 percent of the vote. In 2006, he ran the reelection of Governor John Lynch, who won nearly three-quarters of ballots cast — the greatest margin of victory for a New Hampshire governor.
Though he worked in Lynch’s administration and served as executive director of the state party, Vlacich’s career arc has been shaped by his work for Shaheen. Shortly after she took office as governor in 1997, Vlacich began as a caseworker and rose to other positions throughout her three terms. He was state director for her during her first term as senator, ran her reelection, and was with her as a senior adviser until mid-March.
Vlacich’s history also crosses with that of Robby Mook, reported to be Clinton’s national campaign manager. Mook managed Shaheen’s successful Senate campaign in 2008 and worked on former Vermont governor Howard Dean’s presidential campaign in 2004 while Vlacich was at the state party.
Vlacich moved from New York to Concord when he was 10, after an early childhood in Queens and Long Island. He is the son of immigrants — his father moved from Croatia in 1955, the same year his mother arrived from Italy. Vlacich and his family were drawn to New Hampshire by the promise of better economic opportunities. His father worked in printing and bookbinding factories, and his mother was an aide in the school system.
Joining Clinton’s campaign will return Vlacich to some of his earliest political roots, formed as a student at the University of New Hampshire, from which he graduated in 1995. He was a volunteer UNH organizer for Bill Clinton’s campaign in 1992 and a field staffer on the president’s reelection campaign in 1996.
Vlacich has been able to work in politics for nearly 20 years without making many enemies, if any at all, colleagues said.
“He’s a consummate professional and a friend,” said Steve Duprey, a member of the Republican National Committee and former chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Committee.
Vlacich is unlike other political operatives, “hard-core mercenaries” who only care about the next campaign and not the reputation they build, Duprey said.
“Insofar as politics is ever fair . . . I find him to be a very decent and honorable person in the way he conducts campaigns,” he said.
Vlacich is married to Liz Purdy, a consultant who works in politics and was a senior political adviser to Clinton’s 2008 campaign in New Hampshire. They have two daughters and live in Concord.
Duprey isn’t surprised Vlacich is set to join the Clinton campaign.