A Hammonton-area native is now Donald Trump’s campaign manager as the Republican presidential candidate announced a shakeup Wednesday of the leadership team in his bid for the White House.
The billionaire real estate mogul named pollster Kellyanne Conway to the position as his poll numbers slip and 82 days remain before the presidential election. Stephen Bannon, of the conservative Breitbart News website, was named CEO. Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, will retain his title, but it is unclear whether his role will change.
Conway was born Kellyanne Elizabeth Fitzpatrick and was raised in the Hammonton area. She graduated from St. Joseph’s High School in 1985 and serves on the school’s board of trustees. The announcement of her new role in the campaign was posted on the school’s Alumni Association Facebook page Wednesday.
Paul Ordille, president of St. Joe’s board of trustees, said her availability has been somewhat limited, but she attends meetings and is very supportive of the school. Her polling company has helped the school, and she was the graduation speaker in 2012.
“She is knowledgeable, and she is knee-deep in Republican politics,” Ordille said. “We’re excited for her.”
Hammonton Mayor Steve DiDonato said he does not know Conway but met her once when she was in town. He said people don’t have to support her politics to be excited that a local person has such a prominent role in a presidential campaign.
This is not Hammonton’s first brush with the presidency. In 1984, when Conway was in high school, President Ronald Reagan made a campaign stop downtown. Schools closed so students could attend, and a memorial marks the spot at Bellevue and Central avenues where Reagan spoke. According to Press of Atantic City archives, the city was chosen because of its large population of Italian-Americans. At the time, Geraldine Ferraro was running for vice president on the Democratic ticket with Walter Mondale.
Conway joined Trump’s campaign earlier this year as a senior adviser. The longtime Republican strategist and pollster has close ties to Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.
Trump has another adviser with close ties to Atlantic County. Roger Stone, the longtime conservative political consultant and Trump friend, also did campaign work in the 1980s for former Atlantic County Executive Dick Squires, former state Sen. Bill Gormley and former state Assemblyman Ed Kline, among other local Republicans. Stone later broke with Gormley and worked for candidates opposing him in several campaigns.
Stone is also a former business partner of Manafort.
In tapping Bannon for a top campaign role, Trump is doubling down on his outsider appeal rather than appeasing more traditional Republicans. The conservative Breitbart figure has been a cheerleader for Trump’s campaign for months and was critical of Republican leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan. Bannon is a former Goldman Sachs banker and does not bring presidential campaign experience to Trump’s White House bid.
Trump has resisted pleas from fellow Republicans to overhaul his flamethrowing approach on the campaign trail that powered his surge to the top of his party’s field in the primary season. Instead of working to broaden his appeal, Trump has largely hewed to the large rallies and attention-grabbing comments that appealed to the party base.
“I’ve known both of them for a long time. They’re terrific people, they’re winners, they’re champs and we need to win it,” Trump told The Associated Press in a phone interview early Wednesday.
Manafort deputy Rick Gates, who has been traveling often with Trump, is expected to maintain a senior role with the campaign.
The campaign shakeup, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, comes as polls show Trump trailing Democrat Hillary Clinton nationally and in key battleground states following a difficult stretch that saw him insulting the Muslim parents of a U.S. Army soldier who died in Iraq and temporarily refraining from endorsing Ryan in his Wisconsin primary race.
Trump has resisted pressure to change his campaign style.
“You know, I am who I am,” he told a local Wisconsin television station Tuesday.
Conway called the moves “an expansion at a critical time in the homestretch.”
Details of the new pecking order were hashed out at a lengthy senior staff meeting at Trump Tower on Tuesday while Trump was on the road. A statement announcing the hires was released Wednesday. Additional senior hires are expected soon.
Trump’s campaign announced earlier that it would begin airing its first ads of the general election next week in the battleground states of Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
While polls show Clinton building a lead following last month’s conventions, Democrats fear a depressed voter turnout might diminish support among the minority, young and female voters who powered President Barack Obama to two victories.
Clinton said at a voter registration event at a Philadelphia high school that she’s “not taking anybody anywhere for granted” in the race for the White House.
Staff Writer Diane D’Amico and The Associated Press contributed to this report.