The campaign strategists who had the most impact on the Texas House battlefield this fall made the highest grades on the Capitol Inside Political Consultants Scorecard for the 2016 general election.
That's usually the case in a Lone Star State where the west wing of the statehouse in Austin is the center of the political universe even when races that are higher on the ballot are devouring the spotlight like the wildest battle for president ever in the U.S.A. did during the past year.
The high-powered team that veteran campaign guide Craig Murphy leads finished at the top of the leader board for the primary and general elections combined just like it had in the previous two cycles. The crew at Murphy Nasica & Associates reap the highest singular honor as well for an incumbent protection effort that prevented a Dallas County state House disaster that could have had far-reaching implications on the GOP's future in Texas.
But there's a twist this time around with a Democratic consulting group from Texas scoring the most points for its work in the general election campaign that ended ironically with a loss at the polls this month for the number one client by far. James Aldrete and his teammates at the Austin-based group Message Audience & Presentation helped the Democrats pick up three seats in the Legislature's lower chamber in fights with Republicans who had the advantage of incumbency.
Aldrete - a longtime Texas political player whose survival skills have been put to the test in the era of Republican rule here - celebrated six victories in state legislative contests with only one loss in a race that the Democrats with the money decided to ignore. Aldrete and his colleagues at the firm known as MAP may remember the 2016 general election - however - for the fish that got away as the director of the Spanish-language advertising initiative nationwide for Democrat Hillary Clinton in a presidential race that she'd expected to win before Republican Donald Trump claimed the nation's top prize in one of the most stunning upsets in the planet's history.
A Texan who had an instrumental role in the Trump campaign as a political unknown until now is being honored here as well along with a Texas couple who helped a down-ballot Republican win in spite of the White House nominee with a performance that bordered on miraculous.
Most Valuable Consultant
The busiest campaign consulting shop in Texas spread its wings across the country this fall with efforts here and in other states that contributed to the GOP's overall success up and down the ballot. But Murphy Nasica & Associates had been conceived in the Dallas-Fort Worth area - and it has to see the work that it performed in the past few months in its own backyard as some of its finest anywhere since a merger expansion several years ago.
The political strategy group that's built on a total team concept applied that same basic approach to the roles that it had as the lead consultants for a quartet of Texas House Republicans who were in various degrees of danger in swing races in Dallas County where Donald Trump was destined to lose badly in the White House race at the top of the ticket.
With an A-team that features Craig Murphy, Matt Brownfield, Justin Epker and Ross Hunt, Murphy Nasica faced an unprecedented challenge with the Dallas-area lawmakers who it advises were trying to avoid being tied to Trump at the same time they needed the presidential nominee's supporters to vote for them if they hoped to survive. The targeted incumbents in the firm's stable would depend just as much on support at the polls from the many GOP voters who'd refused to fall in line behind Trump like a lot of Republican leaders and donors and legislators who'd opposed him had done after he'd emerged as the primary winner. This would require the kind of high-wire juggling that Republican candidates in the Lone Star State had never attempted or even imagined. But the nature of the task seemed to underscore why Murphy had joined forces with a group that had specialized in voter targeting and turnout in a move that produced the most multi-dimensional firm in the political consulting industry in Texas today.
The overriding objective in the House fights in and around Dallas would be as simple in theory on paper as it would be difficult to achieve in a major American city that had grown increasingly blue amid a migration of Republican voters to newer and more affluent suburbs in neighboring counties. Murphy Nasica knew that its clients in Big D had to fare substantially better at the ballot box in November than Trump was going to do in their districts. And all four of them outperformed the top of the ticket in impressive fashion with victories that they claimed by surprising margins based on polling that showed all four races to be close in the final stretch before the general election.
The GOP's last two nominees for president - Mitt Romney and John McCain - had carried all of the competitive Dallas County House districts with slightly more than half of the votes that had been cast in them in 2012 and 2008. Trump in sharp contrast ended up receiving a meager 43 percent of the vote in the districts where GOP State Reps. Linda Koop and Jason Villalba had Murphy Nasica as guides in fights with Democrats that had the potential to be tight. Trump settled for only 47 percent of the vote in districts where two of the firm's other candidates - Republican State Reps. Cindy Burkett of Sunnyvale and Angie Chen Button of Garland - had been viewed as vulnerable as well in re-election battles with Democratic foes.
Koop - a freshman lawmaker who'd served on the Dallas City Council - defeated her Democratic opponent by more than 9 percentage points in a district on the north side of town where a Democrat had unseated an incumbent Republican in 2008 when the minority party had a six-seat net House gain. Burkett won a third term when she beat a Democratic challenger by more than 10 points while Button was re-elected with a margin of victory that topped the 14-point mark.
Villalba - a Hispanic legislator who'd been Trump's most outspoken Republican critic by far in the west wing of the statehouse - had the most separation from the top of the ticket when he beat a Democratic rival by more than 15 percentage points in the only competitive Dallas House race that featured a Libertarian who claimed almost 4 percent of the vote himself.
The four lawmakers who had Murphy Nasica pointing the way in Dallas House races have all been GOP Speaker Joe Straus allies. Two other House Republicans who Murphy Nasica did not represent in the Dallas area - State Reps. Rodney Anderson of Grand Prairie and Matt Rinaldi of Irving - had opposed the speaker in the leadership election early last year. While Rinaldi and Anderson survived Democratic challenges in the general election as well, they prevailed by much smaller margins than the Murphy Nasica crew in Dallas County where Democrats who'd had high hopes that Trump was fueling only managed to pick up one seat in the lower chamber.
A Kanas native who landed in San Antonio a dozen years ago after a stint as a movie industry software developer in Hollywood, Brad Parscale emerged from the 2016 election as the ultimate overnight celebrity in his political debut as the Donald Trump campaign digital director during the past four months. That's a high-tech title for a role as a consultant who had the task of tracking down and stirring up the disgruntled voters that Trump needed to win a four-year trip to the White House in a race that Democrat Hillary Clinton had been widely favored to win until the ballots had been counted last week.
Parscale had been hired by Trump's daughter Ivanka to manage the web site for the family real estate business back in 2010 - a year before he and
a partner in the Alamo City formed the firm Giles-Parscale as an online marketing and advertising design venture. Parscale, who'd started his own company with a $500 investment when he was fresh out of college in the 1990s, signed on with the presidential campaign this past summer with a contract that was supposed to pay a four-figure sum initially. But chump change turned into real money fast as the Trump campaign channelled somewhere between $60 million and $90 million to Giles-Parscale for voter targeting and enticing over the course of a four-month period that culminated with the Republican's stunning victory at the ballot box last week.
Parscale pointed the candidate to potential voters that the pollsters had failed to identify in critical battleground states like Pennsylvania and Michigan where the polls had shown Clinton on track to win before Trump snatched victories from the jaws of defeat by razor-thin margins. But Parscale's emergence as a major player at the pinnacle of a sport he'd never played seemed tailor-made for the most unconventional, unpredictable and over-the-top election in modern American history.
The Texas transplant who'd been a dot.com pioneer has found himself fielding a flurry of questions in the past week about whether he helped pursue a voter suppression strategy, if he might have a part in the Trump administration and whether he'd actually worked for U.S. Senator Ted Cruz's campaign before his enlistment with the eventual winner. Parscale insists that he was not an operative for the Texan who finished second to Trump in the GOP primary sweepstakes and refused to endorse the nominee for a couple of months before capitulating under intense party pressure a month before the election.
But Texas Ethics Commission records indicate that Trump hadn't been Parscale's first and only political client up to now. Giles-Parscale received $182 in late 2011 from Karen Crouch for a "web update" when she was in the midst of launching a comeback campaign for state district judge in Bexar County after being unseated as a court-at-law jurist in the primary election the previous year. Crouch had been a Democrat at the time she hired Parscale's company for the web site tweak. But she's a member of Trump's party now as an incumbent Bexar County court-at-law judge who voters put back on the bench in 2014 after she'd switched to the GOP.
A cardinal rule here has been to not mess with Texas local politics. Consider that broken this time around.
You could make the case that Donald Trump didn't defy the odds in an underdog victory at the top of the ticket than Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty managed to do in a re-election win at the bottom of the ballot. There may not have been a candidate for elected office anywhere in the entire United States of America in fact that survived a down-ballot avalanche of the magnitude that Daugherty had to overcome as the only Republican on the county commissioner's court in the most liberal urban area by far in the Lone Star State.
Daugherty's consultants - the local married couple Kori Crow and Chad Crow - deserve a bow for helping make that possible in a time and place where it didn't seem to be.
Daugherty won a new term when defeated a formidable Democratic challenger in a district where Hillary Clinton obliterated Trump by a margin of almost 18 percentage points. Daugherty had proven that he was special when he reclaimed the local post four years ago by unseating an incumbent Democrat in a rematch with 48 percent of the vote at a time when Mitt Romney had fared much better as the White House nominee than Trump would do there in 2016. Daugherty had served six years as a commissioner before losing the seat in 2008 when John McCain hadn't fared quite as well in western Travis County as Romney would do in the next presidential election. Karen Huber - the Democrat who Daugherty ousted from the court in 2012 - had garnered 48 percent of the vote herself when voters had given him the boot four years earlier. While Daugherty's victory in the comeback bid could have been characterized as an upset, the results in the Precinct 3 competition here in 2012 and 2008 had been politics as usual compared to the way the latest battle for the job played out at the polls last week.
Almost 54 percent of the people who cast ballots in the Travis commissioners race voted straight party for one side or the other - and Democrat David Holmes claimed nearly 55 percent of the straight-ticket vote. But Daugherty had support from more than 59 percent of the Travis County residents who split their tickets in last week's general election in the precinct that he's represented for 10 of the past 14 years. Daugherty beat Holmes by almost four percentage points with nearly 52 percent of the vote - which means that he outperformed Trump by almost 22 points - an achievement that's mind-boggling for a candidate near the end of a ballot in an opposition landslide at the top. The most amazing thing about the outcome of the contest that Daugherty won may have been the fact that more votes were cast in the commissioners court race than the combined total that Trump and Clinton received in Precinct 3. Unbelievable!
Daugherty rode a red tidal wave into the local post in 2002 when he unseated Democrat Margaret Moore, who was elected last week as the new district attorney in Travis County. Daugherty had run on a platform that favored road construction over mass transit alternatives in an area where traffic congestion was becoming a nightmare - and he'd gained a reputation as a relatively moderate commissioner who sided at times with Democratic colleagues on big-ticket projects. Daugherty's largest winning share of the vote had been in the initial election 14 years ago when almost 54 percent of the voters backed him for the job. Democrats didn't even bother to field an opponent when Daugherty sought re-election for the first time in 2004. The best that he'd fared in a presidential election since that time was four years ago when he barely cleared 48 percent in the rematch rebound with Huber on the Romney ticket after losing to her by two points with 46 percent in their first encounter when McCain was the GOP's candidate for president. McCain and Romney had lost to Barack Obama in Travis County by an average of 27 points in Daugherty's last two elections. Clinton beat Trump last week by 39 points in the county where Daugherty won by almost four points more than he had the last time around.
Daugherty had been clearly concerned about a Trump down-ballot backlash - and he waffled throughout the fall fight on whether he would vote for Trump or break ranks like many other Republicans were planning to do. But Daugherty's top attributes had been a tireless work ethic and unquestionable dedication to the job - and his team found a way to package that in a campaign ad that became a YouTube sensation amid gushers of praise from national pundits who'd never heard of the guy.
The online spot that the Crows helped produce ended with Daugherty's wife pleading with voters to keep him in the job as a way to keep him out of the house so she wouldn't have to listen all day to his non-stop rambling on policy positions and statistics that could bore anyone who isn't a total wonk to death. The commissioner's commercial ranked as the number one political ad in the world in October on the Google YouTube leader board. MSNBC talk show host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman from Florida, declared it to be the best campaign ad of all time. While that may be a stretch, the results at the polls speak for themselves.
GENERAL ELECTION SCORING
Tier-One Victory 6
Tier-Two Victory 3
Tier-Three Victory 2
Tier-One Loss 1
Defeated Incumbent 5
Opposing Party District Win 3
Major Presidential Role 3
Incumbents & Open Race Winners vs. Major Party Foes
Tier-One: Donald Trump, Wayne Christian, Paul Green, Eva Guzman, Debra Lehrmann, Will Hurd, Rodney Anderson, Cindy Burkett, Angie Chen Button, Tony Dale, Sarah Davis, Wayne Faircloth, Rick Galindo, Linda Koop, J.M. Lozano, John Lujan, Gilbert Pena, Matt Rinaldi, Kenneth Sheets, Jason Villalba, Paul Workman, Scott Cosper
Tier-Two: Hillary Clinton, Ken Mercer, Bobby Guerra, Gary Elkins, Craig Goldman, Rick Miller, Bill Zedler, Jonathan Stickland, Jeff Leach, Matt Krause, Ron Simmons, Phil Stephenson, Lynn Stucky, Joe Moody, Laura Thompson, Hubert Vo
Tier-Three: All Other Statewide, Congress and Legislative Incumbents and Open Race Winners in Contests with Major Party Foes
Craig Murphy, Matt Brownfield
Justin Epker, Ross Hunt
GENERAL ELECTION SCORECARD
Competitive Races & Committees
November Scores & 2016 Totals
Craig Murphy, Matt Brownfield, Justin Epker, Ross Hunt
Murphy Nasica & Associates
General: Cindy Burkett, Angie Chen Button, Linda Koop, Jason Villalba, Associated Republicans of Texas, Harris Republican Party, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, Texas House GOP Caucus, Texas Republican Representatives Committee - Primary: Joe Barton, Kevin Brady, Pete Sessions, Debra Lehrmann, Joe Straus, Cindy Burkett, DeWayne Burns, Angie Chen Button, Marsha Farney, John Frullo, Charlie Geren, Kyle Kacal, Doug Miller, Wayne Smith, Jason Villalba, Ernest Bailes, Red Brown, Jon Cobb, Jay Dean, Kevin Downing, Scott Fisher, Justin Holland, Bennett Ratliff, Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, LIFE PAC, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, Associated Republicans of Texas, Texas Alliance for Life, Texas Association of Business, Texas Municipal Police Association
Message Audience & Presentation
General: Hillary Clinton, Juan Hinojosa, Bobby Guerra, Celia Israel, Philip Cortez, Ana Jordan, Victoria Neave, Mary Ann Perez, Texas Association of Consumer Lawyers, Texas Organizing Project, Texas Trial Lawyers Association - Primary: Hillary Clinton, Vicente Gonzalez, Gabe Farias, Lina Ortega, Planned Parenthood
General: Sarah Davis, Associated Republicans of Texas, Harris County GOP, Texas Republican Representatives Committee - Primary: John Culberson, Joe Straus, Sarah Davis, Dan Huberty, John Raney, Wayne Smith, Paul Workman, Rick Hagen, Wes Hinch, Hugh Shine
General: Ken Mercer, Matt Krause, Matt Rinaldi, Jonathan Stickland, Texas Right to Life - Primary: Rick Green, Brent Mayes, David Simpson, Matt Rinaldi, Stuart Spitzer, Jonathan Stickland, Tony Tinderholt, Molly White, Jonathan Boos, Briscoe Cain, Josh Crawford, Bo French, Brent Golemon, Thomas McNutt, Dan Morenoff, Bryan Slaton, Larry Smith, Jay Wiley
Chad Crow, Kori Crow
General: Lynn Stucky, Associated Republicans of Texas, Texans for Lawsuit Reform - Primary: DeWayne Burns, John Cyrier, J.D. Sheffield, Gary VanDeaver, Lance Gooden, Lynn Stucky, Scott Cosper, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, Associated Republicans of Texas
General: Wayne Christian, Giovanni Capriglione, Scott Sanford - Primary: Lamar Smith, Wayne Christian, Michael Massengale, Bryan Hughes, Bill Zedler, Cole Hefner, Mike Lang, Terry Wilson, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, Texas Optometric Association
Jerod Patterson, Sara Patterson
Patterson & Company
General: Scott Cosper, Associated Republicans of Texas - Primary: DeWayne Burns, John Cyrier, Lance Gooden, J.D. Sheffield, Gary VanDeaver, Scott Cosper, Lynn Stucky, Texas Alliance for Life
Dan McClung, Robert Jara,
General: Hubert Vo, Mary Ann Perez, Texas Trial Lawyers Association - Primary: Gene Green, Jessica Farrar, Ana Hernandez, Hubert Vo, Mary Ann Perez, Texas Trial Lawyers Association
General: Debra Lehrmann, Rodney Anderson, Kenneth Sheets, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, Texas House GOP Caucus, Texas Republican Party - Primary: Debra Lehrmann, Kevin Brady, Bill Flores, Pete Sessions, Jodey Arrington, Jon Cobb
General: Dawn Buckingham - Primary: Rick Green, Dawn Buckingham, Jonathan Stickland, Chris Byrd, Chris Carnohan, Jess Fields, Dan Huberty, Jim Landtroop, Thomas McNutt, Tom Oliverson, Keith Strahan, David Watts
General: Paul Green, Eva Guzman, Debra Lehrmann, Will Hurd, Cindy Burkett, Tony Dale, Kenneth Sheets, Stan Lambert, Associated Republicans of Texas, Texas House GOP Caucus - Primary: Eva Guzman, Paul Green, Debra Lehrmann, Kevin Brady, John Carter, Blake Farenthold, Bill Flores, Pete Sessions, Jodey Arrington, Jon Cobb, Joe Straus, Cindy Burkett, Travis Clardy, Jay Dean, Stan Lambert, Jay Misenheimer, Texas House Leadership Fund, Associated Republicans of Texas
General: Rodney Anderson, Angie Chen Button, Sarah Davis, Rick Galindo, Ron Simmons, Harris County GOP, Texans for Lawsuit Reform - Primary: Ted Cruz, John Culberson, Lamar Smith, Bryan Hughes, DeWayne Burns, John Cyrier, Sarah Davis, Marsha Farney, John Frullo, Jodie Laubenberg, Matt Rinaldi, Ron Simmons, Wayne Smith, Gary VanDeaver, Stan Lambert, Mike Lang, Texas House Leadership Fund
Neumann & Company
General: Wayne Christian, Paul Green, Eva Guzman, Michael Keasler, Scott Walker, Ken Mercer, Sarah Davis, Rick Miller, Phil Stephenson, Texas Republican Party - Primary: Kevin Brady, Gary Gates, Michael Massengale, Sarah Davis, Harris GOP
Baselice & Associates
General: Texans for Lawsuit Reform - Primary: Kevin Brady, Dan Huberty, Paul Workman, John Keating, Tom Oliverson, Hugh Shine, Constituents Focus PAC, Texans for Education Reform
General: Brian Birdwell - Primary: Paul Green, Eva Guzman, Michael Massengale, Brent Webster, Brent Mayes, David Simpson, Matt Rinaldi, Jonathan Stickland, Molly White, Bo French, George Lavender
General: Hubert Vo, Mary Ann Perez, Michael Shawn Kelly, Sarah DeMerchant, Texas Parent PAC - Primary: Susan, King, Sergio Munoz, Lance Gooden, Heather Way, Texas State Teachers Association, Texas Trial Lawyers Association
Jeff Crosby Direct Mail
General: Joe Moody, Terry Meza, Annie's List, Texans for Insurance Reform, Texas Association of Consumer Lawyers, Texas Trial Lawyers Association - Primary: Mary Gonazlez, Sergio Munoz, Gene Wu, Annie's List, Texas Association of Consumer Lawyers, Texas Trial Lawyers Association
Sources: Texas Ethics Commission & Federal Election Commission