"None of my family is political," she offers. "They think I'm crazy." Yet she also credits "the nontraditional, brazen, women in my family" for helping to "shape me and make me who I am." Ward is just back from celebrating her maternal great-grandmother's 100th birthday in California. Though her great-grandmother was not a formally educated woman, Ward says she instilled in her family a deep appreciation for "diversity of thought, diversity of people, and, frankly, how you treat people." Ward's mother, a United Methodist minister, played an even more influential role in shaping her professional orientation. "I came by it honestly," Ward tells me of her love of politics. "As a preacher's kid, especially in the black church, social justice is very much a part of the teachings of the church."
Ward landed her first political gig during her senior year at Oklahoma City University, when she spent a semester interning for Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign. In the years that followed, she worked for the Democratic National Committee, the White House, Mercer & Associates, EMILY's List, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, and Planned Parenthood. In 2011, she returned to the DNC as acting national constituency director and director of women's outreach.
Bold-faced names in the Democratic Party are eager to praise her. "Little known fact," Howard Dean tells me in an email, "she was a track star"—in high school, she ran distance to stay in shape for soccer and basketball—"so you can expect her to run right over the opposition. We will regain the majority for sure in 2016!!!" EMILY's List President Stephanie Schriock calls Ward "the real deal." Donna Brazile says, "She's the best." When I ask Brazile, whom Ward describes as "a mentor" from her DNC days, to elaborate, she does at length: "First, Simone knows how to be an insider as well as an outsider. For candidates looking for ways to reach new voters as well as motivate others, Simone has been there and understands how to get the job done. Simone has been at the table and knows how to make room for others to join."
Immediately before starting her new job at the DSCC, Ward served as campaign manager for West Virginia Senate candidate Natalie Tennant. Tennant lost, but they remain close. "Simone has the ability to see the big picture like few people I've known," Tennant says. "She understands how all the various moving pieces of a campaign fit together and is constantly strategizing not two or three, but 10 or 20 steps down the road."
Ward has a demanding schedule, and she has developed a number of coping mechanisms along the way. Chief among them is a collection of campaign veterans she calls her "D.C. family." It's a support model "complete with Sunday dinners and seeing each other through celebrations like new jobs and death and marriage and babies and all the things families do," she says. Another strategy is not taking campaign jobs two election cycles in a row. A third is that, after a draining cycle, she takes a long vacation. "If you don't take care of yourself, you can't take care of other people," she says.
It also helps that Ward has the courage of her convictions, having been inspired by her upbringing. "Women can do anything when they work hard," she tells me. "They are natural-born leaders, and knowing it gave me the courage to step into the role that I have now."