In 2002, when Jennifer Ridder was 15, her parents did something a lot of parents do: They told her she couldn’t host a party in the basement of their house in Denver. But their reasoning was a bit different. The little-known governor of Vermont, Howard Dean, was staying with them, and he needed to sleep downstairs.
Ridder was not pleased. “I ended up losing that fight,” she said.
But it was a common enough occurrence for Ridder, the daughter of two political operatives and one of the few students at her elementary school who knew the political calendar.
A year or so later, her father, Rick Ridder, a veteran Democratic pollster, would be the first campaign manager of Dean’s surprisingly strong bid for the presidency. A year after that, Jennifer was in Iowa, knocking on doors to try to boost Dean. Now, 15 years later, Jennifer is trying to help a different little-known governor, Montana’s Steve Bullock, make an impact on the presidential race.
The Ridders are the first-ever father-daughter pair of presidential campaign managers, and perhaps the first parent-child duo. The elder has worked for Gary Hart’s and Bill Bradley’s presidential bids, and slews of federal and state races. The younger has worked for Barack Obama’s 2008 bid, for former Sen. Mark Udall (Colo.) and for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Together, they helped elect Colorado Gov. Jared Polis. She was the campaign manager; he was the pollster. (She technically fired her father from his role as Polis’ general consultant, a position that was no longer needed.)
Jennifer has leaned on Rick for advice as she’s launched Bullock’s long-shot bid for the presidency. She’s picked up two major lessons ― “It’s all about message, telling people who and what the candidate is fighting for” and “No task is too big or too small” ― as well as dozens of minor ones.
“The handbook has changed a lot in 40 years,” Rick said. “But the basics are the same.”
Despite the family history ― Rick’s wife and Jennifer’s mother is Joannie Braden, who co-founded RBI Strategies and Research with Rick ― it wasn’t always clear whether Jennifer would go into politics full time. She majored in geography in college and spent time working in Kenya.
“We just wanted the kids to try to make a difference in people’s lives,” Rick said. “That was more important than being in politics.”
The younger Ridder’s first political experience years ago came in Iowa, where she worked as an aide for the Dean campaign. But she didn’t take to it immediately. A few days after arriving, she called her mom and asked her to come up with an excuse for Jennifer to come home. Her mom promptly scheduled an appointment for Jennifer to get her wisdom teeth out a few days later.
In the interim, Ridder began to like her time in Iowa more and talked to her mom about finding a way out of the appointment. She then called her older brother and convinced him to get his wisdom teeth taken out so the family wouldn’t have to cancel the appointment.
“He was the ultimate campaign surrogate,” Jennifer said.