March 12, 2008

Primary Results Mix Pleasure with Pain
for Most Top Texas Political Consultants

By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor

The thrill of victory was tempered by the bad taste of defeat for most of the state's top political consultants after the votes had been counted in the primary election last week. With only a few scattered exceptions, the results of the vote were a bittersweet bag of big wins and bitter loses for most of the political pros on the Texas Political Consultants Power Rankings scoring system leaderboard for the first round of the competition in 2008.

Democratic consultant James Aldrete - as an example - had winners at the state and federal levels with key primary victories by State Rep. Dora Olivo, Texas Supreme Court candidate Linda Yanez and congressional contender Larry Joe Doherty. But Aldrete's firm suffered setbacks when Sandra Rodriguez lost to State Rep. Kino Flores and Tara Rios Ybarra knocked off State Rep. Juan Escobar in primary fights with major implications for the House speaker's race.

The Houston firm run by Democratic strategists Dan McClung, Reed Hibbitts and Robert Jara savored several key wins including Armando Walle's victory over State Rep. Kevin Bailey, but one of their candidates fell short when State Rep. Borris Miles lost to former House member Al Edwards in a primary rematch in Houston last week. Austin consultants Kelly Fero and Jeff Hewitt had Democratic primary victories at the state and local levels and even helped a challenger oust a Republican incumbent in a race that could have cost Speaker Tom Craddick a vote of support in his bid for another term as House leader. But the Austin firm that Fero and Hewitt run ended up on the losing side in State Rep. Aaron Pena's victory over Eddie Saenz in a Democratic primary race with an incumbent who's been a Craddick ally.

Top-level Republican consultants like Bryan Eppstein, Todd Smith and Jason Johnson had cause for both celebration and disappointment in the wake of the primary election. Eppstein had key victories by Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and State Rep. Charlie Geren in Fort Worth offset by State Rep. Pat Haggerty's loss to Dee Margo in El Paso and a couple of other defeats in key House battles. Smith claimed a major victory when State Rep. Charles "Doc" Anderson beat Jonathan Sibley with 64 percent of the GOP primary vote - and several other incumbents he represented won key House races as well. But Smith failed to run the table when Quico Canseco lost to Lyle Larson in one of the hottest congressional primary races in Texas this year.

Johnson helped show Mark Shelton the way to victory without the need for a runoff in a Republican primary fight for a Fort Worth-area House seat that he sought late last year before losing in a runoff to a Democrat who he'll face in a November rematch. While Johnson had another candidate qualify for an April runoff in a race for an open House seat, a big one got away when when State Rep. Nathan Macias lost to GOP challenger Doug Miller by 38 votes after leading for hours in a primary fight that the incumbent could still win if a recount that's expected overturns the outcome. Republican consultant Court Koenning claimed a huge victory when Allen Fletcher beat State Rep. Corbin Van Arsdale in a high-stakes race in the Houston area. But Koenning didn't have as much to cheer about after State Rep. Robert Talton placed fourth in a field of 10 Republicans in a congressional primary battle that be will settled in a runoff featuring the two candidates who had by far the most money.

Republican strategists Allen Blakemore, Craig Murphy, Kevin Brannon and Jeff Norwood had higher batting averages in the opening round than the other top campaign consultants in Texas. Brannon celebrated a huge win with State Rep. Phil King's lopsided victory in a contest that quite a few Democrats and Republicans had been predicting he'd lose - and the consultant from Allen helped guide Randy Dunning into a runoff for an open House seat that he'll have a decent shot at winning despite a second-place finish behind Angie Chen Button in round one last week. But Brannon's colleagues at the Patriot Group had mixed results in the primary vote with Republican primary losses in races for Harris County judge and an open state House seat and victories in several key House races as consultants for the Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC.

Norwood helped Margo beat Haggerty and moved into position for another potential win when Martha Tyroch won a spot in a runoff with the most votes in another race for an open House seat. While Norwood and Brannon are both undefeated after round one, they didn't have as many opportunities to lose as some of the other top-rated Texas consultants who had more candidates in contested primary battles this year.

Murphy and his partner Chris Turner fared better than any of their rivals on the Texas political consulting scene in the first round of the voting this year. Murphy Turner & Associates claimed huge victories when former Mesquite Mayor Mike Anderson and Miller beat State Rep. Thomas Latham and Macias respectively in last week's election. Murphy and Turner scored another win with an easy GOP primary victory by State Rep. Bill Zedler - and they helped Button win the most votes in round one en route to a runoff for the seat that State Rep. Fred Hill's not seeking again in north Dallas County. But some of the success that the consultants from Arlington enjoyed last week could be short-lived with Button facing a tough fight in the runoff and a recount expected in the race that Miller won at the wire last week.

The victories in races against two House incumbents that Craddick's team favored came less than a year after Murphy Turner drew the wrath of some partisan Republicans for representing a former city councilman who had the local Democratic Party's support in a runoff for Dallas mayor. That was the last race Murphy and Turner lost. But Murphy contends that it would be inaccurate to say that his firm could be on the verge of gaining a reputation as anti-party establishment - pointing to Zedler and other Craddick supporters that he represents while suggesting that there's no guarantee how Anderson and Miller will vote in the speaker's race if they beat Democratic foes in November. Murphy says his firm has made it a point to avoid such a niche.

Blakemore, the busiest GOP consultant in Houston, helped State Rep. John Davis survive a primary challenger while advising Randy Weber in a race for an open House seat against two Republican foes that he beat last week without the need for a runoff. Blakemore also had key assists in primary victories by King and State Senator Tommy Williams. But this year hasn't been all gain with no pain for Blakemore as the consultant for Chuck Rosenthal, who cancelled his re-election campaign for district attorney and resigned in January in the midst an email scandal.

Campaign Strategies - the Democratic consulting firm that McClung, Hibbitts and Jara lead in Houston - added victories to its resume with primary wins by State Reps. Garnet Coleman and Jessica Farrar and Supreme Court candidate Sam Houston. But Campaign Strategies was on the losing side in challenger Ron Reynold's bid to unseat Olivo - and Walle's victory over one of the Republican speaker's Democratic supporters was mitigated by Miles' loss to Craddick ally Edwards two years after he'd ousted him from the House.

Fero and Hewitt had a variety of roles during the first round this year as the consultants for Democratic state Senate primary winner Joe Jaworski and Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector Nelda Spears in a highly-publicized battle that she won against former House member Glen Maxey. Fero-Hewitt Global also helped assistant prosecutor Rosemary Lehmberg qualify for a runoff against Mindy Montford in the race for the Travis County district attorney's post that their boss Ronnie Earle isn't seeking again. Fero and Hewitt produced television ads and direct mail that a group of racetrack owners used against Republican State Rep. Betty Brown, Macias and King in an advertising blitz that ended with one win against two losses. Brown beat Wade Gent for the second time in two years in another primary battle that was critical to Craddick's future as speaker.

While Fero and Hewitt won more than they lost in round one of the primary, their biggest accomplishment so far this year might have come when they helped scare off potential opposition for Roland Gutierrez, a former San Antonio city councilman who's unopposed in both the primary and general elections in his bid for an open House seat. The opening came about after Fero helped stir up some bad publicity for the incumbent, ex-House member Robert Puente, before he decided not to run again and stepped down early.

The Democratic primary election proved to be lucrative for a South Texas consulting firm led Brad McCumber and Don Breeden, who helped Pena and Rios Ybarra win high-stakes races against House members who've been staunch Craddick foes. The Brownsville-based firm Breeden/McCumber also helped Marisa Marquez in her winning campaign against veteran State Rep. Paul Moreno as a consultant for TLR this year. But like most of the other consultants in big league state races this year, Breeden/McCumber failed to win them all when client John Shergold fell short in a bid against State Rep. Rene Oliveira in a Democratic primary battle.

The biennial scoring system for campaign strategists is an offshoot of the Texas Political Consultant Power Rankings that Capitol Inside will publish later this year. The scores will be updated after the April 8 primary runoff vote and the general election as well.

Consultants scored six points for victories in the 18 most competitive state House races and the three hottest congressional battles in this year's primary competition. They picked up additional points for beating incumbents, winning key races with more than 60 percent of the vote and claiming nominations without the need for runoffs in fields of three candidates or more. Victories in hotly-contested statewide races and a few high-profile local battles for posts such as Harris County judge and Travis DA paid five points each. All other wins in legislative, congressional and statewide races were worth three points apiece. Instead of being penalized, consultants received consolation points for races they lost, based on the theory that business is generally better than no business at all. Points were also awarded for special circumstances and roles that are outlined in the scoring index. The scoring system here isn't scientific - even though it attempts to be as objective as possible in a subjective sort of way. We welcome the input of information on whatever we've missed.

SPECIAL MENTION
Roy Spence - GSD&M
Austin advertising magnate who produced the television ad that helped his old friend Hillary Clinton win Texas and Ohio primary elections by suggesting that she was more qualified to lead during a crisis
BIG 18 TEXAS HOUSE WINS
Listed in Order of Races to Watch Ranking
1
Phil King (Inc)- Republican
2
Doug Miller - Republican
3
Dee Margo - Republican
4
Betty Brown (Inc) - Republican
5
Allen Fletcher - Republican
6
Mike Anderson - Republican
7
Aaron Pena (Inc) - Democrat
8
Kino Flores (Inc) - Democrat
9
Armando Walle - Democrat
10
Charlie Geren (Inc) - Republican
11
Doc Anderson (Inc) - Republican
12
Dawnna Dukes (Inc) - Democrat
13
Dora Olivo (Inc) - Democrat
14
Jerry Madden (Inc) - Republican
15
Tara Rios Ybarra - Democrat
16
Marisa Marquez - Democrat
17
Al Edwards - Democrat
18
Mark Shelton - Republican
 
BIG 3 CONGRESSIONAL
CD 22
Pete Olson, Shelly Sekula Gibbs- Republican Runoff
CD 23
Lyle Larson - Republican
CD 10
Larry Joe Doherty - Democrat

KEY APRIL RUNOFFS
CD 22
Pete Olson vs. Shelley S. Gibbs
HD 52
Bryan Daniel vs. Dee Hobbs
HD 55
Martha Tyroch vs. Ralph Sheffield
HD 81
Tryon Lewis vs. Buddy West (Inc.)
HD 112
Angie Button vs. Randy Dunning
HD 144
Ken Legler vs. Fred Roberts

 

MOST VALUABLE CONSULTANT
TEXAS PRIMARY ELECTION ROUND ONE

Craig Murphy, Chris Turner
Murphy Turner and Associates

The Arlington-based consultants helped Republican challengers knock off a pair of Texas House members while guiding another client to a first-place finish and spot in a runoff in a race for an open House seat. They chalked up another win with an easy victory by a House Republican who's also a client. While a recount looms in a race that their candidate won by a razor-thin margin, Murphy and Turner are the only big-league political consultants at the state level with victories in at least three key primary races and no losses so far in 2008.

REPUBLICAN CONSULTANTS
PRIMARY CLIENTS - 10 POINT MINIMUM

PTS
Craig Murphy, Chris Turner - Murphy Turner and Associates
Bill Zedler, Mike Anderson, Angie Chen Button, Doug Miller, Unopposed Incumbents, Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, Special (Big 18 Win over Incumbent - 2), No Losses in Key Primary Races
27

Bryan Eppstein - The Eppstein Group
Tommy Williams, Byron Cook, Charlie Geren, Pat Haggerty, Ralph Sheffield, Bob Leonard, Jonathan Sibley, Ed Emmett, Texas Medical Association, Fort Worth Police, Fort Worth Firefighters, High-Profile Local Race II

27

Todd Smith - Todd Smith & Associates
Doc Anderson, Betty Brown, Charlie Howard, Joe Crabb, Quico Canseco, Unopposed Incumbents, Special (Big 18 Win over 60%), Special (Winning Key Race without Runoff - 2), High-Profile Local Race I

25

Allen Blakemore - Blakemore & Associates
John Davis, Randy Weber, Ken Legler, Phil King, Tommy Williams, Chuck Rosenthal, Unopposed Incumbents, Harris GOP, C Club, Houston Realty Breakfast Club, Special (Winning Key Race without Runoff )

24

Kevin Brannon - Patriot Group
Phil King, Randy Dunning, Sam Johnson, Unopposed Incumbents, Special (Big 18 Win over 60%), No Losses in Key Races

20

Jason Johnson - J2 Strategies
Nathan Macias, Mark Shelton, Bryan Daniel, Craig Kelsay, Special (Winning Key Race without Runoff), Consultant for Big 3 Donor

17

Todd Olsen - Olsen & Shuvalov
Dee Margo, Rudy Giuliani, Texans for Lawsuit Reform (Betty Brown, Corbin Van Arsdale), Unopposed Incumbents, Young Conservatives of Texas, Special (Beat Incumbent)

17

Court Koenning - Koenning Consulting
Allen Fletcher, Robert Talton, Special (Beat Incumbent in Big 18 Race), Special (Consultant for Radio Talk Show Host & Owner)

14

Jeff Norwood - Anthem Media
Dee Margo, Martha Tyroch, Special (Beat Incumbent in Big 18 Race), No Losses in Key Races

14

Rob Allyn, Brian Mayes - The Allyn Company
Thomas Latham, Jim Shepherd, Charles Stafford, Tom Leppert, Unopposed Incumbents, High-Profile Local Race II

13
Ted Delisi - Delisi Communications
Ralph Sheffield, Unpposed Incumbents, Special Connections
10

Ryan Erwin - Ryan Erwin & Associates
Tom Annunziato, Jon Cole, Joe Hnatek, Major Consultant for Presidential Candidate II

10

Kori Crow, Chad Crow - KC Strategies
Tryon Lewis, Dee Hobbs, No Losses in Key Races

10

DEMOCRATIC CONSULTANTS
PRIMARY CLIENTS - 10 POINT MINIMUM
PTS

Dan McClung, Reed Hibbits, Robert Jara - Campaign Strategies
Garnet Coleman, Jessica Farrar, Borris Miles, Ron Reynolds, Armando Walle, Sam Houston, David Mincberg, Texas Trial Lawyers Association, Texans for Insurance Reform, Dallas County Young Democrats, Unopposed Incumbents, Special (Beat Incumbent in Big 18 Race), Key Local Race II

33

Kelly Fero, Jeff Hewitt - Fero Hewitt Global
Joe Jaworski, Eddie Saenz, Dan Grant, Rosemary Lehmberg, Nelda Spears, Texans for Economic Development (Opposing Betty Brown, Phil King, Nathan Macias), Texas Medical Association, Unopposed Incumbents, Special (Only Candidate for Open Seat Unopposed in 2008), Key Local Race II, Key Local Race I

28

James Aldrete - Message Audience Presentation
Dora Olivo, Sandra Rodriguez, Linda Yanez, Larry Joe Doherty, House Democratic Campaign Committee (Juan Escobar), Unopposed Incumbents, Special (Statewide Win over Major Candidate)

24
Brad McCumber, Don Breeden - Breeden/McCumber Inc.
Aaron Pena, Tara Rios Ybarra, John Shergold, Texans for Lawsuit Reform (Marisa Marquez), Special (Beat Incumbent in Big 18 Race)
17

Dann Rivera - Victory Data
Rene Oliveira, Tara Rios Ybarra, Special (Beat Incumbent), No Losses in Key Races

10

Neftali Partida - Partida & Associates
Kevin Bailey, Carol Alvarado, Jose Medrano, Pete Olson

10

Randy Thompson - Thompson Group
Dawnna Dukes, Special (Big 18 Win over 60%), Unopposed Incumbents

10

SPECIALIST CONSULTANTS
PRIMARY CLIENTS - 10 POINT MINIMUM
PTS

Mike Baselice - Baselice & Associates
Republican Polling
Phil King, Dee Margo, Tryon Lewis, Corbin Van Arsdale, Dean Hrbaeck, Texans for Lawsuit Reform (Jerry Madden)

20

John Doner - John Doner & Associates
Republican Fundraising
Tommy Williams, Corbin Van Arsdale, Tara Rios Ybarra, Friends of the University PAC, No Losses in Key Races

16

Susan Lilly - Lilly & Associates
Republican Fundraising
Fred Thompson, Texas Republicans Victory 2008

12

Jeff Smith - Opinion Analysts
Democrat Polling
Texas Trial Lawyers Association (Juan Escobar, Paul Moreno), Texas Parent PAC (Joe Tison), Texans for Insurance Reform (Pat Haggerty, Wade Gent), Texas Democratic Party

12

Dean Rindy - Rindy Miller Media
Democrat Media
Rosemary Lehmberg, House Democratic Campaign Committee (Rene Oliveira), Texas League of Conservation Voters, Unopposed Incumbents, High-Profile Local Race II Runoff, No Losses in Key Races

15

Jeff Crosby - Jeff Crosby Direct Mail
Democrat Mail
Dawnna Dukes, Donnie Dippel, Texans for Insurance Reform, No Losses in Key Races

14

Spencer Neumann - Neumann & Company
Republican Mail
Allen Fletcher, Joe Agris, Martin Basaldua, Paula Stansell, Dean Hrbaeck

11

Ed Valentine - Valentine Direct Marketing
Republican Mail
Phil King, Randy Dunning

10

 

SCORING INDEX

6 - Big 18 State House Wins (Major role), Big 3 Congressional Wins (CD 10, 22, 23)

5 - High-Profile Local Race II Win (Example: Harris County Judge, Travis District Attorney, Dallas Mayor 2007), Statewide Win over Major Candidate

3 - State Senate Wins, Big 18 State House Wins (Minor Role), State House Wins Not in Big 18, Congress Wins Not in Big 3, Statewide Wins, April Runoff with Incumbent, April Runoff for Open Seat, April Runoff in Big 3 Congressional, Unopposed Incumbents (Main consultant for at least 2 with no primary foes in re-election bids), Big 18 State House Wins for Organization, High-Profile Local Race I Win, High-Profile Local Race II Runoff

2 - Loser in Big 18 State House and Big 3 Congress, Major Political Party Work

1 - Loser in All Others for Legislature, Statewide and Congress, High-Profile Local Race Runoff Loser, Major Organization Work

Special Points

7 - Major Consultant for Presidential Candidate III (Clinton, Obama, McCain)

5 - Statewide Coordinated Campaign

4 - No Losses in Key Races (Minimum of Two Candidates in Key Races), Only candidate for open legislative or congressional seat with no opposition in 2008

3 - Major Consultant for Presidential Candidate II (Giuliani, Huckabee, Edwards, Romney, Thompson, Paul), Consultant for Radio Owner and Talk Show Host, Consultant for Big 3 Donor (Bob Perry, James Leininger, Fred Baron), Special Connections,

2 - Winning without Runoff in Key Races with 3 or more candidates

1 - Big 18 Win over 60%, Beating Incumbent

 

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