November 20, 2012

Democratic Tacticians Put End to Demise Theory
with Winning Roadmaps on Court Maps This Fall

Texas Political Consultants Primary Scorecard

Texas Political Consultants Runoff Scorecard

 

Roger Garza & Jeff Crosby
Most Valuable - General Election

As strategists for a political party that had been a path to unemployment for others in the same business in Texas, Roger Garza and Jeff Crosby might have had better odds in auditions for parts on Survivor than they appeared to have as Democratic consultants on the legislative battlefield here early this year. They surely would have had a better chance of winning on reality television than they could expect as coaches on a team that had been brutalized in the last election cycle before getting kicked around some more in redistricting last year. Or so it would seem in a state where the Democrats have won about as much in the past decade as the Harlem Globetrotters' regular opponent.

But Crosby and Garza wouldn't have made it this far in an unforgiving industry if they didn't realize that you can't win political campaigns without any clients. So when the Texas Republican Party declared early year that it had scored 100 state House seats out of a possible 150 on an interim map that a federal court had drawn for the 2012 elections, Garza and Crosby refuted the analysis with one of their own that found 53 districts in the lower chamber with Democratic voting majorities in them and several more within reach in the judge's plan. That's exactly what some potential Democratic contenders needed to hear to get off the fence. The Democrats would come out only three seats ahead in the Garza-Crosby math compared to the GOP's numbers unless they found ways to win in districts that tilted Republican. But the Democratic duo parlayed the bean count into a compelling sales pitch and springboard for a general election run that culminated in a string of victories in Texas House races that were critical for the incremental comeback that the minority party's desperately needed to get under way this year.

While Garza and Crosby run their own separate firms, they teamed up as the general consultants for rubber match races that former House Democrats Abel Herrero of Corpus Chrsiti and Joe Moody of El Paso won when they unseated Republicans who'd knocked them out of the Legislature two years ago in their initial rematches. The district where Moody ousted State Rep. Dee Margo with almost 54 percent of the vote had been one of the seats that the state GOP had branded as an R when it reviewed the map that the three-judge federal panel in San Antonio had drafted after the plan that the Legislature adopted stalled in a separate court amid allegations of civil rights violations. Herrero fared even better in a battle with State Rep. Connie Scott in a district that the GOP assessed as 49 percent Republican before the former incumbent-turned-challenger reclaimed the seat with 57 percent of the vote on November 6.

The signature victory for the Democratic consulting tandem came when State Rep. Craig Eiland of Galveston staved off a high-dollar challenge from Republican Wayne Faircloth of Dickinson when he captured almost 54 percent of the vote in a district that even Crosby and Garza acknowledged to be a GOP leaner. Eiland, a 19-year House veteran who served as speaker pro tem during the legislative session in 2009, had been the number one target for Republicans in the House competition as a result of his district's recent voting history coupled with his occupation as a highly successful trial lawyer who'd won some expensive judgments against the insurance industry while representing property owners who'd been hammered by Hurricane Ike. But the consultants helped Eiland craft a message that shifted the focus to Faircloth and his job as an agent for a major insurance company that had denied thousands of claims that courts deemed to have been legitimate. And in a state where public education has been the focal point of debate in most all of the other competitive House races, Eiland and his advisors decided to customize his campaign on the hook of experience and leadership instead by showcasing the rave reviews he'd received for his efforts in Austin to help the folks back home in the recovery and rebuilding periods in the monster storm's aftermath. Eiland was no longer the greedy trial lawyer stereotype preying on a vulnerable civil justice system in hopes of striking it rich in the lawsuit lottery. But Eiland's camp defused the attack it expected by portraying him as a public servant who had the know-how in Austin and legal expertise to lead a fight at the courthouse back on the waterlogged home front. The Eiland advisors also had the candidate well-prepared to head off an attack they anticipated on whether he'd become a full-time Austin resident and island representative in name only as a result of a fancy home that he and his wife purchased in the Capital City.

Business and insurance interests that back tort reform are dead-right when they asserted that the lion's share of money that the candidates that Crosby and Garza advised was coming from trial lawyers directly or indirectly through groups like the Texans for Insurance Reform, the House Democratic Campaign Committee and other entities that Houston attorney Steve Mostyn was funding like the Back to Basics PAC and a new One Texas PAC. Instead of pretending to know nothing like Democrats have done in the past when the attacks on trial lawyer money start to rev up, Garza and Crosby found ways for their clients to divert the attention to topics like public schools and women's health because that's where they knew the Republicans were most vulnerable in light of budget cuts at the Capitol in 2011. The drumbeat on issues that hit closest to home was all the more important in a state where President Barack Obama was destined to lose big without offering much in the way of coattails in places where ran stronger than others.

Crosby and Garza work together well as much as a result of their differences as the ideology they share and their common mission. Crosby, a former editor at the Daily Texan student newspaper at the University of Texas in the 1980s, entered the consulting field as a young man when Democrats were still running the show in his home state. While Crosby has focused on mail for campaigns that often find television advertising to be an unaffordable luxury, he's also been one of the premier speechwriters for Democratic leaders and elected officials as someone who has the ability to mix chicken-fried folksiness with machete rhetoric in a way that sings to the choir.

Garza, who operates a firm called Sobre Todo Consulting, is more new breed than old school as a political pro who served as chief of staff for State Rep. Joe Farias of San Antonio before stints as the executive director of the House Democratic Caucus and the separate but related HDCC. While Crosby won a handful of races and lost of couple with Robert Miklos and Rosemary Robbins in bids that fell short against incumbent Republicans who were more heavily-armed, Garza was one of the few political consultants in Texas who posted a perfect record in the general election with a half-dozen wins in his first year on his own.

They'd probably be the first to tell you they won the map-reading competition when the Democrats emerged from the fall vote with 55 House seats after a seven-seat net gain at the polls.


J.D. Angle, Danee Mastagni & Jennifer Mathews
Best Campaign - General Election

The chief campaign strategist for State Senator Wendy Davis had labored for years in the shadow of a brother who'd evolved into one of the most powerful Democrats in Texas by the time she ran for the Legislature initially in 2008. The Angles, however, are kind of like a pair of siblings who play quarterback in the National Football League. Matt Angle is Peyton Manning - a veteran operative who's clearly been the most famous Angle family member in the Democratic political universe from Texas to Washington for more than a decade. But J.D. Angle - like Peyton's kid brother Eli - has more Super Bowl rings.

J.D. Angle and his partners Danee Mastagni and Jennifer Mathews at the Fort Worth-based firm AMM arguably scored their biggest win ever when Davis fended off a challenge from Republican State Rep. Mark Shelton in the general election this month. Davis' second victory in Senate District 10 had to be significantly sweeter than the first that Angle and company helped her achieve when she claimed the seat in 2008 by sending a longtime lawmaker who'd been the betting favorite to an early retirement from politics.

The freshman Senate Democrat this time around faced a GOP foe who wasn't tarnished like the incumbent she unseated four years ago with a boost from a record turnout that Barack Obama inspired in suburban areas with large pockets of minority voters like SD 10. After two regular sessions and a fireworks-filled special session in four years in the Senate, Davis had a more extensive record to defend in 2012 than she did in the first Senate race that she waged after breaking into electoral politics with a stint on the Fort Worth City Council. And she'd all but dared the rival political party to come after her with a voting record that was very liberal by swing district standards and a media clip file filled with stories about how she'd single-handedly killed some of the GOP's highest-priority legislation and won no shortage of sparring matches in some of the most heated debates on the floor of the upper chamber during relatively brief tenure there. The Republican powers that be had designated Davis as the number one enemy target on a battleground where there wasn't as much competition from other state races to spread GOP resources as thin as they'd been in 2008. SD 10 was ripe for a partisan takeover in a swath of Tarrant County that contained more Republican voters during the last two election cycles than any other seat that incumbent Democrats were seeking again at the ballot box this fall. To complicate matters, Shelton had enlisted the services of the Republican consultant who knows the lay of the land in Fort Worth better than any strategist on either side of the political divide.

But when it comes to institutional knowledge from a territorial perspective, the Angle boys can hold their own in Cowtown as key cogs in a machine that Martin Frost had assembled over a long tour of duty as a Democratic congressman from the Dallas-Fort Worth area in a political career that propelled him about as high as anyone can go on the Washington political ladder short of the White House. Matt Angle, who served as Frost's chief of state and political director, had been the biggest gun in a Frost armory that had managed to stay amazingly intact after Tom DeLay engineered the elimination of Frost and several other U.S. House Democrats from Texas in a special 2003 redistricting execution. But Matt Angle's star soared instead of falling in the wake of his ex-boss' electoral demise as Fred Baron's sign-off man on major Texas Democratic Party decisions when the Dallas asbestos lawyer was bankrolling it until his death a few month before Davis' initial election in SD 10.

While Matt served as the state party's de facto chairman from his office in the District of Columbia, J.D. was the other Angle who did the heavy lifting back in the trenches where he'd worked phone banks for the Tyson Organization with his current partners before they struck out on their own and landed Davis as a launching pad for the new shop. The Senate races that Davis has run with Angle as a lead advisor have had the effect of showcasing a bundle of intertwined and sometimes intimate political, personal and genealogical relationships that have an almost cult-like quality that transcend the lines at typical political operations. Davis' successor on the council - for example - is Joel Burns, who J.D. Angle introduces to people as his husband despite the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. And in a section of Fort Worth with the city's largest gay population, that's probably been more of an asset for the Davis campaign than a liability if anyone outside political circles has taken notice.

But the most common bond that Matt and J.D. Angle and other members of the Frost family share is a craving for partisan politics and the ability to play hard ball and go for jugulars whenever necessary. Matt Angle is probably the most partisan of the bunch - and Shelton's camp knew his long shadow was hovering constantly over the SD 10 race even though his name and company didn't show up on the senator's campaign expenditure statements. But savvy consultants like the AMM crew know that candidates like Davis are rare and should be allowed to sell themselves without the need for makeovers or excessive contrivance or a natural urge that some politicos feel to be on everyone's side on every issue under the sun.

Davis' strategy shop as a consequence came up with a gameplan that was relatively simple. She would raise more money than any candidate for the Senate has in state history Texas history - and she would channel it into a positive television ad that portrayed her as bootstraps survivor who worked her way to a station from which she was able to help other ordinary folks like herself do the same. But the Davis campaign wisely saved its best shot for last when she aired a TV spot that pointed to Shelton's vote against legislation that would have provided funds that were needed to relieve a backlog of rape cases that had been piling up on prosecutors' desks. Angle and the other sharpshooters on the Davis team were more than willing to bet the farm on the theory that women who prided themselves in being Republicans would go south on a candidate who cast a vote that some rape victims might have found offensive - especially when that candidate is a man who doesn't have near as much hair as an incumbent with a crown of blonde wave like the incumbent that beat him in the general election with just over 51 percent of the vote. That's all the more impressive when considering that Mitt Romney pulled more than 53 percent of the vote in SD 10 according to some estimates.

Honorable Mention: Jeff Rotkoff of Pinpoint Public Affairs - Pete Gallego
Mari Woodlief & Brian Mayes of Allyn Media - Jason Villalba


SCORING INDEX
Points for General Consultants
50% for Specialist Role in Campaign
Contested Means Major Party Opposition

 

Statewide

Winning Contested Race 7
Losing Contested Race 2
 

Legislative & Congressional

Winning Contested Race 6
Losing Contested Race 2
 

Bonus Points

Senate District 10 Winner 5
Congressional District 23 Winner 4
Congressional District 14 Winner 4
Top 10 House Races to Watch Win 4
Top 11-20 House Races to Watch Win 2
Senate District 10 Loser 2
Congressional District 23 Loser 2
Congressional District 14 Loser 2
Top 10 House Races to Watch Loss 2
Top 11-20 House Races to Watch Loss 1
Texas House Speaker 3
Major Statewide Organization 3
Special Political Action Committee 2
 
 

Best of the Best

Most Valuable - General Election
Roger Garza & Jeff Crosby

Best Individual Texas Campaign
J.D. Angle, Danee Mastagni & Jennifer Mathews

Best General & Primary Combined
Craig Murphy & Chris Turner

SCORECARD

General Consultants
General Election - Multiple Candidates - Minimum 10 Points

Craig Murphy, Chris Turner - Murphy Turner
& Associates

Jimmie Don Aycock, Joe Barton, Greg Bonnen, Stefani Carter, Kyle Kacal, Kelly Hancock, Charlie Geren, Doug Miller, Larry Phillips, Larry Taylor, Ed Thompson, Republican Party of Texas, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, GOPAC-Texas, Dallas County Republican Party

83

Roger Garza - Sobre Todo Consulting
Craig Eiland, Abel Herrero, Joe Moody, Poncho Nevarez, Joe Farias, Roland Gutierrez, Annie's List, House Democratic Campaign Committee, Texans for Insurance Reform, Texas Trial Lawyers Association

60

Jeff Crosby - Jeff Crosby Direct Mail
Craig Eiland, Robert Miklos, Donna Howard, Abel Herrero, Joe Moody, Poncho Nevarez, Rosemary Robbins, House Democratic Campaign Committee, Back to Basics PAC, One Texas PAC

58

Bryan Eppstein, Keats Norfleet, Chris Keffer, Tyler Hargrave - The Election Group
Michael Burgess, Byron Cook, Gary Elkins, Kevin Eltife, Kay Granger, Kenny Marchant, Bennett Ratliff, Mark Shelton, Texas Medical Association, Associated Republicans of Texas

50

Corbin Casteel - Redrock Strategies
Michael Conaway, Christi Craddick, Tony Dale, Blake Farenthold, Linda Harper-Brown, Jason Isaac, Republican Party of Texas, Texans for Lawsuit Reform

49

J.D. Angle, Danee Mastagni & Jennifer Mathews - AMM Political
Wendy Davis, Nicole Collier, Pete Gallego, Carol Kent, Ann Johnson, Marc Veasey, First Tuesday

43

Allen Blakemore, Elizabeth Blakemore - Blakemore & Associates
Donna Campbell, Christi Craddick, Dan Huberty, Dan Patrick, Mark Shelton, Barry Smitherman, Conservative Republicans of Texas, Texans for Lawsuit Reform

42

Chris Homan - Marathon Strategic Communications
Quico Canseco, Pete Olson, Pete Sessions, Lamar Smith, Roger Williams, National Republican Congressional Committee

31

James Aldrete - Message Audience Presentation
Bobby Guerra, Juan Hinojosa, Justin Rodriguez, Marc Veasey

26

Dan McClung, Reed Hibbitts, Robert Jara - Campaign Strategies
Ana Hernandez, Mary Ann Perez, Hubert Vo

24

Mari Woodlief, Brian Mayes - Allyn Media
Jason Villalba, Linda Harper-Brown, Associated Republicans Of Texas

21

Eric Bearse - Bearse & Company
Sarah Davis, Connie Scott, Joe Straus, Texans for Lawsuit Reform

20

Steve Ray - Steve Ray Associates
Blake Farenthold, J.M. Lozano, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, Nueces County Republican Women

20

Kevin Brannon
Craig Goldman, Ken Paxton, Ron Simmons

18

Bill Bragg - Bragg Consulting Group
John Raney, Michael McCaul, Susan Narvaiz, Joe Straus

17

Jeff Rotkoff - Pinpoint Public Affairs
Pete Gallego, Back to Basics PAC, Texans for America's Future

14

Ted Delisi - Flintrock Consulting
Mark Shelton, Paul Workman, Texans for Lawsuit Reform

13

Todd Olsen - Olsen & Company
Wayne Faircloth, Associated Republicans of Texas, Texans for Lawsuit Reform

10

Specialist Consultants
General Election - Multiple Candidates - Minimum 10 Points

Chris Perkins - Wilson Perkins Allen
Republican Polling
Jimmie Don Aycock, Stefani Carter, Christi Craddick, Ted Cruz, Tony Dale, Sarah Davis, Wayne Faircloth, Linda Harper-Brown, M.J. Khan, David Pineda, Connie Scott, Jason Villalba, Dianne Williams, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, Texas Republican Representatives Campaign Committee, Conservative Republicans of Texas

45

Matt Brownfield, Ross Hunt - Nasica Consulting Services
Republican Grassroots
Jimmie Don Aycock, Greg Bonnen, Stefani Carter, Wayne Faircloth, Charlie Geren, Linda Harper-Brown, Kyle Kacal, Larry Taylor, Randy Weber, Dallas County Republican Party, Texans for Lawsuit Reform

36

Jeff Smith - Opinion Analysts
Democratic Polling
John Adams, Wendy Davis, Abel Herrero, Carol Kent, Joe Moody, Mary Ann Perez, Rosemary Robbins, Matt Stillwell, Carlos Uresti, Judith Zaffirini, Texans for Insurance Reform

35

Susan Lilly - Lilly & Associates
Republican Fundraising
Quico Canseco, Nathan Hecht, Kelly Hancock, Pete Olson, Lamar Smith, Joe Straus, Roger Williams

22

Marc DelSignore - Perception Insight
Republican
Polling
Kyle Kacal, J.M. Lozano, Dee Margo, Kenneth Sheets, Roger Williams, Texans For Lawsuit Reform, Texans For Economic Development

21

Spencer Neumann - Neumann & Company
Republican Mail
Sarah Davis, Dan Huberty, M.J. Khan, Tim Kleinschmidt, Rick Miller, Republican Party of Texas, Harris County Republican Party

19

Byron LaMasters - Infocus Campaigns
Democratic Phones
John Adams, Joe Moody, Abel Herrero, Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles, House Democratic Campaign Committee

15

Randy Thompson - Thompson Group
Democratic Media
Abel Herrero, Joe Moody, House Democratic Campaign Committee

12

Jeff Norwood - Anthem Media
Republican Media
Greg Bonnen, Christi Craddick, Jason Isaac

11

Mike Baselice - Baselice & Associates
Republican
Polling
John Garza, Mark Shelton, Ron Simmons, Conservative Republicans of Texas, Texans for Lawsuit Reform

10

Craig Murphy & Chris Turner
Best General & Primary Combined

The Texas campaign season in 2012 would fall somewhere on the scale between neurotic and bipolar if political analysts attempted to break it down more like psychiatrists than commentators at contact sporting events. The primary and general elections had extremely different personalities - with Republicans dominating the headlines in the first half of the political year while Democrats stole some of the thunder in the second.

But while the election year gone by here proved to be a rough and erratic roller coaster ride for most of the participants, the folks at the campaign consulting shop Murphy Turner & Associates can make the case that their firm had a better year from start to finish than any of the other groups or individuals who get paid to dish out advice to candidates at the state level in Texas.

The company that's led by Craig Murphy and Chris Turner - for starters - had more business this year than any other political consulting firm that's headquartered in Texas when the contracts it had with clients in other states are calculated into the equation. The Fort Worth-based group that veteran GOP strategist Bryan Eppstein runs is the only consulting organization in Texas that advised as many campaigns and committees as Murphy Turner in 2012.

Quantity is arguably the most important point on the measuring stick for political consultants because more clients generally translates into higher profits for the people sharing them. But Murphy Turner scored more quality wins in the most highly competitive contests on the critical legislative battlefield here than any of its GOP rivals with the possible exception of Kevin Brannon, an Allen consultant who's evolved into the most experienced and successful strategist for hard-line conservative candidates in Texas House and Senate races on the state's political landscape in recent years. While the biggest victories that MTA and Brannon recorded came during the opening half of 2012, Austin consultants Roger Garza and Jeff Crosby have equal cause for celebration after one of the most successful general elections that anyone in the business on the Democratic side of the aisle have experienced since the current minority party had majorities on both sides of the Texas Capitol in the 1990s. AMM Political - a Democratic consulting group that operates out of Fort Worth as well - claimed the biggest win of all in 2012 when it guided State Senator Wendy Davis to daylight in the hottest fight in the legislative ring this cycle.

But when all of the factors that gauge political consulting are blended together for a big picture assessment, Murphy and Turner take the trophy for their work in the primary campaigns and general election combined as a firm that had a long list of clients who won more than 80 percent of the races they entered including a handful that ranked among the most hotly-contested battles for the Legislature in 2012. Like all of the top-flight GOP consultants in Texas, Murphy Turner's toughest fights erupted in the primary when clients Ken King of Canadian and Chris Paddie of Marshall knocked off incumbent House Republicans while State Reps. Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills and Larry Taylor of Friendswood prevailed in expensive slugfests for the party's nomination in Texas Senate races that went on to win easily this fall. Murphy Turner helped guide Friendswood physician Greg Bonnen to victory over a formidable primary foe in the race to replace Taylor in the lower chamber in a district next door to the one that his brother represents. The consulting firm that has offices in Arlington and Austin capped off a banner year with general elections wins that GOP nominee Kyle Kacal of College Station scored in an open race in a new district and Republican State Reps. Jimmie Don Aycock of Killeen and Stefani Carter of Dallas claimed in re-election bids in races in which they'd appeared potentially vulnerable at the outset.

But Murphy and Turner wouldn't be able to win so many races if they were afraid to take on candidates who had no guarantees of success like they did with eventual primary losers in battles in House districts that Republican State-elects Jeff Leach of Plano, Stephanie Klick of Fort Worth and Bennett Ratliff of Coppell will represent after they take the oath in January. The Murphy Turner candidates lost to Klick and Ratliff in the summer runoff election while their client in the race that Leach ended up winning failed to even qualify for overtime with a third place finish in the first round. A couple of freshman House Republicans who faced serious challenges this fall switched to other consultants after the primary amid speculation that they thought Murphy Turner were too expensive or disagreed with their advice or both.

Murphy Turner ended up catching heat from some conservatives like Austin activist Michael Quinn Sullivan as a result of the hard-hitting tactics they used to help Paddie and King unseat State Reps. Wayne Christian and Jim Landtroop in rural East Texas and West Texas races respectively. But the firm had set out at the start to sign up an ideological cross-section of candidates to keep from getting stereotyped by factions on the right and in the middle that had never been as divided as they were during the primary competition this year. The criticism from the right wasn't going to stick with conservatives like Taylor and Hancock on the Murphy Turner client list.

Murphy Turner's success in recent elections has elevated the duo into a league that Eppstein had to himself not long ago as someone who'd helped get more Republicans elected to the Legislature and Congress than any other consultant in Texas history. Eppstein and his team advised as many campaigns in Texas as Murphy Turner in 2012 if not more - and the two firms finished the year with similar won-loss records in races they ran here. But losses that Eppstein clients sustained in the two most ferociously-contested Texas Senate races overshadowed a long list of victories in other legislative contests that weren't nearly as competitive.

For several years the Murphy Turner roster has included Wayne Hamilton, a former Texas GOP executive director who concentrates more on lobbying. But the firm added another key member last year when Amy Ellsworth signed on after a stint as Republican State Rep. Linda Harper-Brown's communications director. Ellsworth fell on the sword at times when situations got dicey during the past year - and that seemed to enhance her value to the total team effort at a consulting operation that won some and lost some and came out way ahead in the ultimate balance.

Honorable Mention: Corbin Casteel of Redrock Strategies
Roger Garza of Sobre Todo Consulting

 

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