Shrum was born in the Pittsburgh suburb of Connellsville, Pennsylvania and raised in Los Angeles. He is a graduate of Loyola High School of Los Angeles and Georgetown University (where he was named the outstanding debater at the 1965 national policy debate championship, the NDT). He later received a J.D. degree from Harvard Law School.
Shrum began his political career as a speechwriter, first for New York City Mayor John Lindsay, and then for Edmund Muskie. He later worked for George McGovern, and spent nine days on Jimmy Carter's 1976 campaign.
In 1986, Shrum began work as a political consultant, designing campaign advertising and message strategy for Democratic candidates at the presidential, congressional, and gubernatorial levels. He worked for the Dick Gephardt campaign during the 1988 Democratic primaries, including Gephardt's surprise victory in the Iowa caucus, but after Gephardt's defeat, Shrum helped Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis in preparing for his debates against Vice President George Bush. Dukakis lost the general election.
In 2000, Shrum helped Al Gore beat back a primary challenge from former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley, and win the Democratic nomination. Gore would win the popular vote in the November general election versus George W. Bush, only to lose the electoral vote.
In 2004, Shrum worked on John Kerry's campaign, guiding him to a victory in the crucial Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, and soon after, the Democratic presidential nomination, only for Kerry to be defeated in the general election by George W. Bush.
Since 1985, Shrum has conceived and produced advertising (TV, radio, print) for twenty-six winning U.S. Senate campaigns; eight winning campaigns for Governor; the Mayors of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Denver, Dade County and San Francisco, and the Democratic Leader of the United States House of Representatives. Those winning Senate campaigns include those of Alan Cranston in 1986 and John Edwards in 1998, as well as victories for Barbara Mikulski, Jack Reed, Tom Harkin, Jon Corzine, Harris Wofford, and many others.
In 1994, the year of the "Gingrich revolution," Shrum worked on behalf of two of the few bright spots in a tough year for the Democrats: Chuck Robb's victory over Oliver North in Virginia, and Ted Kennedy beating back a challenge from Mitt Romney. Shrum has also worked for the Israeli Labor Party's Ehud Barak and the British Labour Party.
Shrum is a regular columnist for The Week magazine's website along with his conservative counterpart, David Frum. As a journalist, Shrum’s work appeared in New York Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and The New Republic, among other publications.
He was a columnist for the on-line magazine Slate.
Shrum is currently a Senior Fellow at New York University's Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, where he teaches a class on domestic policy formation and analysis. He also teaches an undergraduate seminar to freshmen on Presidential debates and speeches since the 1960s.
Shrum has written a political memoir entitled No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner, published in June 2007. It has received attention in the media for its less than flattering portrayal of Shrum's former client, John Edwards.
Shrum is married to Marylouise Oates, a writer and former columnist for The Los Angeles Times. He has one stepson, the television writer Michael Oates Palmer.
Shrum's firm, Greenberg Carville Shrum (GCS), was featured in the 2005 documentary Our Brand Is Crisis depicting its work campaigning for Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada during the 2002 Bolivian presidential election.
- Loss Leader
- "The Man Behind the Curtain:Political Strategy and Spin", Janet Maslin, New York Times, June 4, 2007