Political Hotshot Lis Smith Talks Women in Politics, Democrats' Future and the Secret to Buttigieg's Success

Now a veteran Democratic strategist, Smith is the woman credited with propelling the career of Mayor Pete. Her new memoir delves into the highs and lows of her life, both personal and professional

Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg's spokesperson Lis Smith speaks to the press in the Spin Room after participating in the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign
Lis Smith. Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

Lis Smith is the first to note that political consultants are often viewed as one-dimensional characters á la Veep or House of Cards. But Smith isn't a traditional political consultant.

Now a veteran Democratic strategist, Smith is the woman credited with helping propel — or, as some might argue, skyrocket — the career of former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg, who quickly became a household name and serious contender for U.S. president.

Buttigieg is among dozens of candidates and lawmakers — including former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, former President Barack Obama, and former Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill — with whom Smith has worked.

Presidential candidate Pete Buttigie delivers caucus night remarks at Drake University in Des Moines, IA
Lis Smith. Chuck Kennedy/PFA

Her new memoir, Any Given Tuesday: A Political Love Story, debuted earlier this month, and charts her career from Dartmouth undergrad looking to get involved in politics to presidential campaign veteran.

"I wanted to demystify politics. As important as this industry is, it's very opaque to a lot of people. Most have no idea how you get into politics, how you join a campaign, how you run for office," she tells PEOPLE. "I hope my book can shed some light on these things for, maybe, an 18-year-old girl who is politically curious but has no idea how to get into the world of politics."

But Smith's book goes deeper than just her professional career, delving into portions of her personal life, as well (including a relationship with disgraced former New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer, which became the subject of tabloid fodder and led to her firing from Bill de Blasio's mayoral campaign in 2013).

Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg visits polling stations in Nashua, NH on Feb 11, 2020
Lis Smith (left), Pete Buttigieg. Chuck Kennedy/PFA

"I thought it was important to weave in my personal life. A lot of the highs in my professional career mirror the highs in my personal life — and a lot of the lows do the same," she says.

Among the other lows touched on in the book include the unraveling of Cuomo's time in office following an investigation that found he had sexually harassed multiple women.

In Any Given Tuesday, Smith writes that Cuomo led she and others in his orbit "down a path of defending him against claims of sexual harassment without giving us the full truth." As a result, she writes, she felt "betrayed and misled."

Still, writing up that exchange paled in comparison to writing passages about she and Spitzer's former relationship.

"I can't say that was the most pleasurable part of writing my book. Breakups suck. Public breakups suck. Writing about public breakups sucks," Smith says. "But it does inform how you navigate the world professionally, as a woman, and how you navigate a male-dominated industry like politics."

Mayor Pete Buttigieg travels with press to in a town hall in Elkader Iowa Sept. 22, 2019
Mayor Pete Buttigieg travels with press to in a town hall in Elkader Iowa Sept. 22, 2019. Chuck Kennedy/Pete for America

As male-dominated as it may be, Smith says she's noticed more and more women getting involved — and she'd like that trend to continue.

"One of the few positives I can think that came out of Donald Trump getting elected in 2016 is that it encouraged women to get off the sidelines and run for office. We saw a huge wave of women running in 2018 and winning. Because he galvanized them," she says. "I think the recent Dobbs decision will have the same effect."

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But more women in office shouldn't be the only goal, she's quick to note.

"It's not just that we need more women elected officials — we need more women behind the scenes and in leadership roles. I have been lucky in my career to reach the upper echelons of presidential politics. I am cognizant of the fact that there aren't many women who have. That's partly why I wrote this book."

Presidential candidate former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, waves to the crowd at his primary night watch party on February 11, 2020 in Nashua, New Hampshire
Chuck Kennedy/PFA

She continues: "Politics matters so much, whether we know it or not. It is women who understand the ramifications of the Dobbs decision and feel it most viscerally. We need them at every level: behind the scenes and pushing candidates to be outspoken on women's issues — whether or not the candidates themselves are women."

As for current party politics, Smith does express concern for her own party, just as polls show general dissatisfaction with Washington and with Democrats in particular.

"The Democratic party has an unhealthy obsession with Washington, D.C. and believes that the world revolves only around the characters we see on the Sunday shows. [The dissatisfaction] speaks to a hunger for new voices."

And while new voices among the GOP — Ron DeSantis, Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Greene — have thrived, Smith is careful to note that she doesn't necessarily think Democrats should attempt to emulate the more controversial figures of the right.

"The GOP is a party [in which] the harder you hate, the more successful you are," Smith says. "I don't think [Democrats] need to emulate that."

She continues: "One reason Pete has been so successful is that he offers counter-programming. He can cut the knees out from his opponents in the kindest, most gentle tone — and without taking the smile off his face."

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