Why you should care
Because this is a behind-the-scenes look at a key player who could help tip some major swing states this election.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager Robby Mook jumped on a press call this month for what had to be one of the earliest victory laps in modern presidential history. Vote-by-mail requests were up by a third in Florida over the last election, driven by a roughly 80 percent increase among both Hispanic and Asian voters. Nearly 1 million absentee applications had been sent in Ohio, and crucial swing states such as Nevada and North Carolina showed promising early returns — and could be decided, along with Florida, before Election Day.
Hans Goff has to be smiling. The regional political director is the campaign architect behind each of these once-competitive states, plus Colorado, which is also trending blue by more than 7 percentage points, Real Clear Politics data shows. From his office in Clinton’s Brooklyn-based headquarters, Goff works as a bridge connecting national resources to statewide forces in key battlegrounds. During the primaries he was political director of the Southern states, where Clinton won so big that Bernie Sanders never effectively recovered. That earned Goff a spot on Campaigns & Elections Magazine’s Rising Stars list. “I call him the quiet assassin,” says Marlon Marshall, Clinton’s director of state campaigns. “You forget how good he is because he’s quiet and unassuming, but that’s actually what makes him fantastic.”
That’s true, though when I quipped to Goff that he got “the easy states,” it split the normally straight-faced 33-year-old into a full-hearted laugh. To some, the Rutgers grad is known as “the fixer — like Kerry Washington in Scandal,” says Doug Palmer, who helped the Clinton campaign in New Jersey. But while Washington’s character is known for witty one-liners and made-for-TV scheming, Goff approaches the world with more practicality.
His strategies over the years have included honing in on early-voting sites — sometimes helping to expand the time people have to participate in that process or pushing “souls to the polls,” such as faith leaders and churchgoers following Sunday service. Other times he’s encouraged and attended intimate roundtables instead of mass rallies like the ones that have become synonymous with Donald Trump, such as one for African-American men who “appreciated someone taking the time out just to listen to them.” He’s also been enticing turnout from otherwise tuned-out voters by working with organizers to enlist a treadmill of celebrities and political royalty, from the Obamas visiting North Carolina and Ohio to actresses including Barbershop’ s Regina Hall in Colorado. “At this point, it’s really just ‘get out the vote,’” says Goff, who outlines his plan of attack in subdued tones.
Goff’s efforts helped the president’s campaign reach early-voting goals and almost caused an upset in the red state …
The victories that could come in states such as Nevada and Colorado will be thanks to grounded boots and knock on doors, he says. And as simple as that sounds, those tactics — including the decision to use Sanders on the trail — does serve to inject new energy and encourage fresh volunteers, says Arun Chaudhary, Sanders’ former creative director and a partner at Revolution Messaging.
Four years before he saw the recent success with early voting in Florida, Goff was driving up turnout as a regional field director for President Obama’s re-election campaign in North Carolina. There, in Rocky Mountain (population: 56,000-plus), he worked alongside an 80-year-old grandma, industrious campaigners (like one who called her husband to fix a fallen Obama sign) and Rosita Wiggins, the “campaign mother” who came into the office daily and sometimes housed organizers. “I operate under the umbrella that everybody has a role, no matter what you do to make them fit,” says Goff, who’s especially adept at finding the people to fill those roles.
That focus on the little guys and gals is the right approach, says Sidney Milkis, a University of Virginia political scientist who studied the Obama campaigns. “It’s these unpaid volunteers that really infuse these organizations with the kind of enthusiasm and energy that they need,” he says. And although Obama ultimately lost North Carolina last election, Goff’s efforts helped the president’s campaign reach early-voting goals and almost caused an upset in the red state — which could very well happen in Florida this time around.
Stretch back even further and Goff, who was an only child raised by a teacher (mom) and health department worker (dad), shows how his success is not because of his ability to talk about himself but his talent for listening to others. The Garden State native interned at city hall for Palmer, then the mayor of Trenton. “He put me on the citizens’ hotline,” says Goff, who even as a high schooler was a fixer — solving problems as disparate as filling potholes and helping unemployed folks find jobs. Before majoring in government and Black studies at the College of William & Mary, he was an assistant to Harvard University Law School’s Charles Ogletree, who was director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice. Back then he was known for being willing to fade into the background, Ogletree says: “He’s a hard worker, but doesn’t want any praise.”
There still are a few weeks left before the election, although by each day (and every October surprise), it seems like Goff and other Clinton campaigners have the inside rail on the final stretch. Looking beyond November 8, Goff says he doesn’t know what else he would do if not politics — though one of his supporters tells me he’s been wanting to work in the White House one day. Goff won’t say what, specifically, he wants next — except for a vacation after the election. “This will have been the longest running job in my life,” says Goff, who’s been working for Clinton’s campaign since 2014, before she had even announced her candidacy and Goff was an organizer for Ready for Hillary. “I’m definitely all in.”