Mr. Smith is coming to Yale.
Sean Smith, that is, former campaign manager for Sen. Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67’s unsuccessful primary campaign against Ned Lamont SOM ’80, the anti-war candidate who beat Lieberman in August for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate.
Smith, a campaign strategist who came from out of state to lead Lieberman’s team, will teach the political science seminar “Modern Political Campaigns.” Following the August loss, Lieberman fired his campaign staff, replacing Smith with Sherry Brown, who had run some of his previous campaigns. Smith, whose wife is Susan Hyde, an assistant professor of political science, is now senior vice president at a New York political and communications consulting firm.
Following Smith’s departure from the campaign, rumors circulated among students that Smith had decided not to teach the class. The rumors started after some students noticed he was not listed as the course’s instructor on the University’s Online Course Information Web site, though he was listed in the print edition of the Blue Book. But political science professor David Cameron, the department’s director of undergraduate studies, said the omission of Smith’s name from OCI is due to bureaucracy: His name cannot be listed until his appointment becomes official, and his appointment will not begin until the spring semester.
Smith praised the department for offering a class taught by someone whose knowledge of campaigns comes from practical experience — though he hastened to add that he has a master’s degree from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He said he hopes to bring in guest speakers, including, perhaps, Lamont campaign manager Tom Swan, or Tim Tagaris, who ran Internet netroot operations for the Lamont campaign. Smith said he would welcome students of any political leaning in the class, even if they had worked with the Lamont campaign.
“Politics is a profession. … It’s not warfare,” Smith said. “Not everybody approaches it that way, but in my own experience, I’ve never believed that my opponents were my enemies.”
Marshall Shaffar ’07, who ran Lieberman’s Waterbury field office during the primary, said Smith was an effective campaign manager struggling to market an incumbent who had taken what was, among Democratic voters, an unpopular position on the Iraq War.
“You lose one eventually,” he said. “It also comes down to the state of the affairs of the candidate himself. A lot of Lieberman’s policies were too moderate for the Democratic base.”
But some students questioned whether they could learn more about elections by volunteering for one, rather than taking a class.
“It seems it’s much more the sort of thing you learn by doing, and not by studying,” one student, who asked to remain anonymous, said. “When you try to fit a campaign into something formulaic, that’s when you get in trouble.”
Smith said he acknowledged that concern and added that the course reading will contain both academic and practical texts.
Other students, mostly Democrats, questioned the value of a campaign strategy class taught by someone whose choice of strategy ultimately proved unsuccessful.
“It’s kind of like if after David fought Goliath, Goliath went on to teach a class about how to use a slingshot,” said Brendan Gants ’08, president of the Yale College Democrats, who have endorsed Lamont.
But Kenneth Dautrich, an associate professor at the University of Connecticut who studies Connecticut politics, said Smith’s only misjudgment may have been working for a candidate whose views as unpopular among members of his party. Dautrich said polls showed that voters were consistently unhappy about the state of the Iraq War, which the Lamont campaign was able to make the race’s central issue.
“If it was not for Lieberman’s support for the [president’s] war policy, there wouldn’t have been a campaign — just naturally that was the issue,” he said. “It was easier for [Lamont] to set the agenda.”