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Meet the most influential women on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 team

May 26, 2015, 5:44 PM UTC
Photograph by Scott Olson—Getty Images

Hillary Clinton has done more than update her stump speech for 2016. Indeed, many of the top names from Team Hillary ’08 are missing this time around. Former campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle was famously fired after Clinton placed third in the Iowa caucus. Pollster Mark Penn is still ensconced at Microsoft’s Seattle headquarters, while 2008 communications director Howard Wolfson has said he won’t return for another run. Then there’s the cadre of Clinton’s close friends and advisers who, while no doubt influential, remain on the outside of the campaign. This list includes the Harvard Kennedy School’s Maggie Williams, Melanne Verveer of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security, and BlackIvy Group CEO–and Clinton’s former Secretary of State chief-of-staff–Cheryl Mills.

So, with those power players out, who’s in? Over the next two weeks, Fortune will highlight the most influential women on Hillary’s 2016 team. Some have been part of the Clinton machine before, while others are fresh to the campaign trail. When this series wraps, we’ll turn our attention to the most powerful women on the GOP side of the race.

Mandy Grunwald, 57, Senior Communications Adviser

When Mandy Grunwald was an honor student at Harvard, her mother—who would die of breast cancer shortly after at age 57—sent a note of encouragement that the media strategist keeps framed today: “Don’t let them get you down. Never compromise. Love, Mommy.” If there was one time to invoke those words during Grunwald’s high-speed political career, it was the ignoble collapse of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential race. But Grunwald won’t go there. “I’m not one to go backwards,” she insists. “I don’t think it’s productive.”

Unlike some of her 2008 counterparts, Grunwald’s internal Hillary star still shines brightly seven years after that defeat. In the 2016 race, she completes the senior strategy troika of Jim Margolis and pollster Joel Benenson, both longtime top Obama operatives. The veteran Clinton adviser will again cut commercials, as well as shape the campaign’s overall message.

Her arrival was read as a smoke signal that Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren definitely will not run. That’s because Warren is a Grunwald client, too—as are four more of the Senate’s nine Democratic women: Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar, Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin, New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen, and Maryland’s retiring Barbara Mikulski. Grunwald has also worked for a bevy of men, ranging from the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan to comic-turned-senator Al Franken.

Before running the 2008 ad team, Grunwald was an architect of Clinton’s 2000 Senate victory. Her value to both Clintons—and her reputation as an intimidating warrior—dates all the way back to 1992 when, as a 35-year-old media consultant, she offered a cool-as-a-cucumber defense of candidate Bill Clinton on Ted Koppel’s Nightline, as military draft and womanizing questions were threatening to sink the Arkansas governor’s campaign.

By then, high-level media was already familiar turf to Grunwald. The daughter of TIME editor Henry Grunwald, a Republican who would become ambassador to Austria, her Upper East Side/Martha’s Vineyard childhood meant dinner parties with guests such as Mike Wallace and Barbara Walters. Her mother, Beverly Suser Grunwald, wrote a Women’s Wear Daily column called “Getting Around” that featured interview portraits of such iconic cultural figures as Tennessee Williams, Beverly Sills, and Truman Capote.

“I was around a lot of famous people growing up so I wasn’t easily intimidated,” Grunwald tells me. Her novelist sister Lisa once described Mandy as “Older. Braver. Taller. Meaner. Stronger.” It also helped that her all-girls school, Nightingdale-Bamford in Manhattan, still operates under mottos like “be assertive” and “beat the boys” (helpful watchwords in a profession dominated by men).

Close Clinton watchers see Grunwald’s Elizabeth Warren-influenced fingerprints in the candidate’s emerging populist rhetoric. Grunwald won’t comment on that. But it’s worth remembering that this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Clinton/Grunwald messaging that takes on big business. Clinton’s 2008 race featured the Grunwald commercial “Level,” in which the candidate attacks “special interests” and companies that “ship jobs overseas.”

This is the first in a Fortune series profiling the top female members of Hillary Clinton’s team for the 2016 presidential campaign. When this series concludes, stay tuned for our look at the most powerful women on the Republican side of the race.