Jeff Barnes, 35, Rick Snyder’s campaign manager, had never before managed a political campaign but had plenty of military experience, which helped him deal with stressful situations. (David Guralnick / The Detroit News)
Lansing— When political novice Rick Snyder went looking for a campaign manager, he hired another political novice.
Jeff Barnes, the man behind Snyder's landslide victory in Tuesday's election for governor, had never managed a campaign.
He had, however, commanded tanks and other armored vehicles for the U.S. Army during two tours of duty in Iraq.
Now, just as military experts study the campaigns of Napoleon, Ulysses S. Grant and other great generals to learn from their triumphs, political strategists will likely want a look at Barnes' campaign playbook.
"Certainly, in a combat environment you grow used to pressure-filled situations," said Barnes, 35, whose unit of the 7th U.S. Cavalry was the first to go from Kuwait to Baghdad in 2003.
In military and political campaigns, "you have to run a disciplined yet fluid operation" that can respond quickly and smoothly to changed conditions on the ground and external attacks, said Barnes, adding he shares credit with Snyder's volunteers and paid campaign workers.
Though unknown in political circles, Barnes got high marks for the campaign in which Snyder, an Ann Arbor businessman, rose from obscurity to beat three big names in a five-way Republican primary before coasting to an 18-point win over Democrat Virg Bernero.
"They really didn't make any mistakes," said Ann Arbor attorney Stuart Sandler, who managed Attorney General Mike Cox's campaigns.
"When this guy is facing life-and-death situations, deciding how much money to spend in Grand Rapids on TV probably isn't the most trying situation he's been involved in."
John Truscott, a Lansing consultant who worked on Gov. John Engler's campaigns, said the Snyder campaign "stayed on message incredibly well."
Barnes, who was honorably discharged as a captain in 2006 after 10 years in the military, also completed a tour in Korea and one in Bosnia when it was a combat zone. The native of Newark, Ohio, has a bachelor's degree in business from Capital University in Columbus and a master's degree from the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. He and his wife, Taryn, who was an army helicopter pilot, live in Ann Arbor.
Barnes is now chief of staff for Snyder's transition team and expects to have a role in the new administration.
He said the key to Snyder's victory was an idea laughed at by some professional political strategists: running a positive and thoughtful campaign with policies backed by position papers on the Snyder website.
"The tendency is for people to go negative early and keep their foot on the gas," Barnes said. "I can't tell you how many times Rick was encouraged to do that, but stuck to his values."