2018’s Political Influencer: Ace Smith

Story by Erin Carlson; photo by Gabriela Hasbun

Within seconds of meeting Ace Smith, it is immediately clear that he is a man perpetually on the move, talking and texting and plotting, his phone never far away.

He’s a responsive emailer, and surprisingly flexible when scheduling a photoshoot, despite the fact that he’s en route to a political debate in San Jose and has just 10 minutes to spare. In the span of those 10 minutes, he sounds off on California’s upcoming gubernatorial election (it’s “obvious” who’s going to win, Smith says) and SF’s mayoral election (he’s not so sure).

Smith, a heavy hitter at SCN Strategies, which is based in SF and LA, has spent the past 30 years advising and managing some of the most important political campaigns in the Bay Area and beyond, from those of U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and Texas Governor Ann Richards to Jerry Brown’s successful 2006 bid for California Attorney General, a path to the Governor’s mansion. He’s helped guide the trajectories of the California politicos Kamala Harris, now a U.S. Senator (and buzzed-about future presidential contender), and Gavin Newsom, the frontrunner to succeed Brown in 2018. Before that, he solidified his reputation on his fearsome skills as an opposition researcher, digging up the dirt on clients’ competition.

“Running campaigns? There’s nothing more exciting in the world,” says Smith. “You’re dealing with big issues on a huge stage, with folks who are trying to accomplish things, and campaigns are scenarios where everything is at stake — there’s winners and losers.”

Asked to name the most memorable race he’s ever worked on, Smith answers easily: The one won by his father, Arlo Smith, who served as SF’s District Attorney from 1980 to 1996. “I was a junior in college at UC Berkeley, and I took the quarter off to work on his campaign. It was the campaign that was in the wake of the assassinations of George Moscone and Harvey Milk, and we were running against the prosecutor who lost that case … and it was an eye-opening experience, in terms of understanding and seeing politics up close and the impact you can make.”

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