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Two Campaigns, Two Victories: Francisco Domenech’s Last Go Around in Puerto Rican Politics

Francisco Domenech is a powerhouse in Puerto Rican politics. Not only is he a managing partner of Politank – a law firm that specializes in government affairs in Puerto Rico– but he is also a passionate philanthropist. Through Politank, he has supported various causes over the past decade. Domenech gained political experience in a vast array of roles, such as fundraising, canvassing, voter registration, opposition research, policy development, and campaign management. His knowledge and experience in both the legal and political worlds have helped shape him into a force to be reckoned with.

Francisco Domenech’s Previous Campaign Experience

Historically, Domenech served as Chief Legal Counsel of Puerto Rico Senate President Kenneth McClintock. Domenech’s duties in this role included providing legal advice, representing the Senate’s interests before the courts, overseeing all in-house counsel work, and supervising outside counsel (including federal lobbyists). Within six months, he became Director of the Office of Legislative Services (the local equivalent of the Congressional Research Service and Library of Congress combined), managing a staff of over 125 and a nearly $12 million annual budget

During this time, Puerto Rico was also in the grips of a decade-long financial crisis. The government was drowning in debt, and the island was suffering a severe recession with unemployment stagnating at a shocking 20%. Puerto Rico’s problems were complex and difficult to solve. Tourism had slowed to a crawl, employment was low, poverty was high, and the islands were still reeling from the economic pain of falling home values and rising oil prices. Cost-saving measures like restructuring debt payments, raising taxes, lowering the minimum wage, cutting back on teachers, reducing subsidies to the University of Puerto Rico, and reducing benefits for government safety nets such as Medicaid were so austere that they threatened to make problems worse.

Working With Hillary Clinton and Jenniffer González-Colón

Leading up to the 2016 election, he managed then Secretary Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in Puerto Rico and then House Minority Leader Jenniffer González-Colón’s historic bid to become the first woman to hold the Resident Commissioner seat in Congress, Puerto Rico’s sole territorial delegate in Washington, D.C. (known as the Resident Commissioner in Congress). Both candidates were faced with the task of convincing the people that they were up to the challenge of bringing the islands back from the brink.

As Domenech had been heavily involved in the political world both on and off the island of Puerto Rico for more than 20 years, it was not surprising that he served simultaneously as a campaign manager for Clinton (D) and González-Colón (R) during the 2016 election cycle. Doing both jobs at once – and doing them well – was a herculean undertaking for anyone – even for him.

Domenech’s intimate understanding of the Puerto Rican people, the island’s communities, the different lay of the lands, the economic situation that has been stifling Puerto Rico for over a decade, and political strategies overall made him an indispensable leader in both campaigns. His ability to execute strategy based on Puerto Rico’s needs and concerns drove the success of both candidates in their respective local races. Not only was he attentive to the needs of the candidates, but he was considerate of the needs of the people. During this time, Domenech created specific strategies according to the nuances of each campaign, outlining the different strengths and promises of each candidate. He advocated for both women at once, assuring the voters in Puerto Rico that the values and ideals of the candidates aligned with their own.

Acting as Campaign Manager

Acting as a campaign manager can be a very challenging task with massive responsibility, which was doubled for Domenech in the 2016 election cycle. Managing both campaigns required that Domenech coordinate both political campaigns on a daily basis; manage operations, communications, field operations, including fundraising; implement effective advertising; monitor polling; and manage any other activities that supported the campaign’s efforts. Domenech was responsible for a huge number of staffers and volunteers in an assortment of areas for both campaigns. Needless to say, it was crucial that he stay organized and leverage every ounce of his knowledge, expertise, and every minute of his time to pull it off.

Additionally, Domenech needed to coordinate closely with the candidates and outside consultants while executing this balancing act. Because of the complexity involved in managing a campaign, day-to-day campaign managers typically work on only one campaign each election cycle. Domenech’s ability to handle simultaneous successful operations from scratch makes him truly unique and valuable. In addition to his past experience, Domenech brought with him unsurpassed knowledge of campaign management tools and a vast network of relationships with political consultants, built over 20 years of working on campaigns both inside and outside Puerto Rico.

On September 14, 2015, Jenniffer González-Colón announced that she was throwing her hat in the ring to replace outgoing Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico, Pedro Pierluisi, who had served for eight years. Throughout the 2016 election cycle, Domenech dutifully served as the campaign manager for then Representative Jenniffer González-Colón. Despite criticism from some media outlets about a Democrat supporting the Republican candidate, González-Colón has always been a member of Puerto Rico’s New Progressive Party, which advocates for Puerto Rican statehood and aligns with Domenech’s vision for the future and prosperity of the territory.  Thus, she was not just the Republican candidate but the local statehood party’s nominee.

An Historic Election

Furthermore, this would be a historic run to elect the first woman to hold the seat of Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico in Washington, D.C. since it was created back in 1900. Thanks to Domenech’s guidance during the primary race, several public opinion polls demonstrated that González-Colón enjoyed an approval rating above 70% among the electorate, making her the most popular politician of any political party in Puerto Rico. On June 6, 2016, González-Colón won the NPP primary by a landslide margin of 70.54% over her opponent Carlos Pesquera. On November 8, 2016, after a labor-intensive 16 months of campaigning, González-Colón became both the first woman and the youngest person to represent Puerto Rico in the United States Congress and Federal Government as Resident Commissioner.

Domenech also proudly served Secretary Hillary Clinton during both of her presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2016. In 2008, Domenech was co-chair for Clinton’s presidential campaign, Hillblazers, and served as Deputy State Coordinator of her successful primary campaign in Puerto Rico. Senator Hillary Clinton won the election by a margin of 68-32 over then Senator Barack Obama. In 2015, Domenech actively supported Hillary Clinton in her second presidential bid, while simultaneously managing González-Colón’s campaign. Not only was he Clinton’s campaign manager and spokesperson for the 2016 primary campaign on the island, but he also acted as one of the national co-finance chairs on Ready for Hillary. Domenech was her top fundraiser in Puerto Rico, bringing in nearly $200,000 in support for her candidacy.

Francisco also organized fundraisers for the super PAC (political action committee) in and out of Puerto Rico, even as far away as San Jose, California. Domenech sat on Clinton’s National Finance Committee and helped arrange her 2016 election cycle trip to Puerto Rico. Eight years after serving as the Deputy Campaign Manager for her 2008 campaign, Domenech successfully managed Clinton’s second primary campaign in Puerto Rico, maintaining a steady two-to-one lead in the polls, and completely overwhelming Senator Bernie Sanders with a victory of 61-37%. Domenech’s finely crafted campaign secured Puerto Rico’s delegates and helped edge Clinton closer to winning the Democratic nomination. While Clinton did not succeed in becoming the first woman president of the United States, she was the first woman to be nominated for the presidency by one of the principal U.S. national parties.

Women are making great strides forward in politics, but many of their voices go unheard, and their contributions are often sidelined by the media. Much of society still sees women as incapable of taking on male-oriented political responsibilities, such as finance, energy, economic development, climate change, foreign affairs, defense, trade, and infrastructure.

The Hurdles That Women Face in Politics

Research suggests that female candidates face many more challenges than men when running for political office. From the start, media tends to give more coverage to male candidates, and, if a station does feature a woman, the coverage is more likely to focus on soft issues like appearance or family life, rather than discussing the important issues of the day. Women have to contend with these gender stereotypes when it comes to voters, special interest groups, and potential donors. Studies show that some voters prefer male candidates even when the female candidate is more qualified. These issues and many more force women to spend more time and effort defeating political opponents then their male counterparts.

Domenech’s monumental challenge to support the efforts of these two female candidates culminated at the end of the 2016 election cycle. The pressure of the primaries was immense, as he was managing two sets of campaign teams – both for historic women’s campaigns. “These were held on the same day, June 6, 2016 – and won by sizable margins,” Domenech recalls. This balancing of responsibilities is a testament to his skill, incredible work ethic, and knowledge of the Puerto Rican political landscape that is only strengthened by his passion for the island’s future prosperity.

Today, Francisco Domenech plays an influential bipartisan role in democratic politics, and he is firmly planted in the middle of Puerto Rico’s political arena. As the managing partner at Politank, a boutique bipartisan government affairs firm he founded in Puerto Rico nearly a decade ago, he specializes in developing strategies to best represent private interests before government forums. Additionally, Domenech continues to support his past political relationships via active participation and philanthropic donations to the Clinton Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to strengthening the capacity of people in the United States and throughout the world to help meet the challenges of global interdependence.

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