Elizabeth Warren has chosen Roger Lau, a longtime aide who worked on presidential campaigns for John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, to manage her bid for the presidency, elevating an experienced operator from her inner circle who has helped her win two Senate races as she launches her bid for the White House.
“Roger and I have been together since my first days as a candidate for office, and it’s always been a fight from the heart. It’s what binds us together. Roger believes in building a grass-roots operation, and that’s exactly what we’ll do,” Warren said in a Wednesday statement.
The son of immigrants who fled Mao’s communist China, Lau appears to be the first Asian-American to lead a major presidential campaign.
Warren is now one of four declared Democratic presidential hopefuls to bring on a non-white operative as campaign manager, showing that the most diverse presidential primary field in history is also shaking up the traditional dominance of white men in these key decision-making roles. New Jersey Senator Corey Booker, California Senator Kamala Harris, and Julian Castro, a former Obama Cabinet member, all hired campaign managers who are either black or Latino.
The trend reflects a growing “understanding that talent comes in various shapes, sizes, backgrounds, and ethnicities,” said Symone Sanders, who served as national press secretary for Bernie Sanders’s 2016 campaign. “It used to be, up until this cycle, a very rare thing to have campaign managers who are also people of color.”
“It’s thrilling,” said Michelle Wu, who worked with Lau on Warren’s 2012 Senate campaign, of his role. “There are many of us who have been very lucky to be mentored by him who are really excited to see him break this barrier,” said Wu, the first Asian-American president of the Boston City Council.
Lau will be running a campaign that includes other staffers of color at the highest levels, including Tracey Lewis, the senior advisor for organizing; and Rich McDaniel, tapped by Warren to be her national organizing director. Both Lewis and McDaniel are black.
Lau is deeply respected in Massachusetts political circles and beyond, where he has earned a reputation as a skilled, if low-key, operative with a knack for the nuts and bolts of organizing. He served as campaign manager for Senate bids by Warren, Kerry, and former congressman Michael E. Capuano, and in House races for Representative Richard Neal and former congresswoman Niki Tsongas.
While he is known best in New England, Lau has experience beyond the region, working in several states for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential primary bid. He cut his teeth in presidential politics working Kerry’s 2004 campaign.
Kerry described Lau as a “head-down, get-the-job-done leader.”
“One of the most important duties of a campaign manager is to anticipate, prevent, and fix problems before the candidate knows they exist – and Roger is a fixer to the core,” Kerry said in a statement. “I’ve never seen him flustered. He’s all business. It’s just on to the next task. He has almost a Bill Belichick quality that way. He was always a step ahead of problems.”
The move means Warren is forgoing the “smart outsider” route in selecting her campaign chief, choosing instead the other model of picking “someone you know well, that you’re comfortable with and you believe is going to look out for your best interests,” said Jim Manley, a veteran Democratic strategist who does not know Lau.
He said Lau appeared to be a smart choice, but there are potential downsides of selecting someone from the inner circle. “Insularity breeds a comfort level, and in this day and age you can’t afford to be comfortable; you’ve got to be pushing the candidate to do the right thing,” Manley said.
Dan Geldon, another longtime aide to the senator, will serve as chief of staff for the campaign.
Lau, who served as campaign manager for Warren’s 2018 reelection bid, takes the helm of a muscular operation that has already made more visits to early states on the presidential primary calendar than any other candidate in the rapidly growing Democratic field. Warren was the first top-tier candidate to form an exploratory committee, on Dec. 31, and she formally announced her bid Saturday as part of a seven-state tour that will end in California next weekend.
But the burst of early energy from Warren’s campaign has been tempered by lingering questions over her claims of Native American heritage, which she sought unsuccessfully to tamp down with a widely criticized release of a DNA test. The issue bubbled up again in recent weeks when a document from 1986, in which she said her race was “American Indian,” came to light.
A native of Queens, Lau earned his way into the world of Democratic politics through grit and hard work, say friends. He dropped out of school at 13, then earned his G.E.D. and graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he at one point worked three separate jobs while carrying an extra-heavy course load.
He got his first break by answering a classified ad, spotted by a friend, seeking an intern for an unnamed US senator. After two years interning in Kerry’s Springfield office, Lau was hired to do constituent services.
“He’s the personification of the American Dream,” said Mike Vlacich, who ran Clinton’s 2016 campaign in New Hampshire. “It’s beautiful.”