March 16, 2020

Texas Hired Guns Warm Up for Epic Fall Showdown
Despite House Leader Disarray and Fizzle on Right

CREAM OF THE CROP

Most Valuable Consultant
Jordan Berry

Most Valuable Campaign
Steve Ray

Political Consultants
Primary Scoring Index

 

 

 

 

The one-two slam of a leadership scandal in the wake of a major blue wave had a numbing effect on the competition for the Texas House in the Super Tuesday primary election and the campaign consulting industry that's revolved on it.

That was especially true within the ruling Republican Party in a state where the Texas-based strategists who had less to work with on the state House battlefield found themselves competing for business with hired guns from the national level for work in the congressional campaign arena where the first-round action was far more intense than it had been in more than a dozen years.

The Capitol Inside Texas Political Consultants Scorecard for the 2020 primary election is dominated once again nonetheless by the leading specialists here for a GOP that still relies on homegrown talent and local knowledge for guidance in legislative races that have long been their bread and butter. It's a trend that's been magnified as Texas Democrats turn increasingly to professionals in Washington to operate campaigns up and down the ballot here.

But the Republicans took a page from the Democrats in terms of their dependence in round one on expertise from the nationals in the hottest races for Congress in Texas where their partisan rivals are pouring record sums of money into an attempt to expand their majority in the U.S. House with a boost from multiple gains at the ballot box in November.

The cream of the GOP consulting crop in Texas didn't seem to suffer as much from the lack of first-round fireworks in House battles as less experienced professional competitors who'd been hoping to break into the business this year. The highly-versatile team at the Austin-based shop Murphy Nasica shouldered another relatively heavy load with several pivotal victories as the firm that's crowning the Texas consultants primary leader board for the fifth time in five consecutive election cycles.

But there simply wasn't as much fighting to try to enable in the most lucrative field of clover in a GOP primary that didn't feature the kind of coordinated and well-fueled effort from Texas House leaders that the Republican political pros here had come to expect as a result of Speaker Dennis Bonnen's entanglement last year in a targeting scandal. The bad blood that the Bonnen furor created between relatively moderate House Republicans and GOP colleagues right of center seemed to have an ironic momentum defusing effect for staunch conservatives who'd used their disdain for the current speaker's predecessor as an effective candidate recuiting and fundraising weapon. The hard right fielded fewer candidates for the Legislature's lower chamber this year than it had in the past 10 years or more.

The primary election still proved to be a good warm-up opportunity for the fall for the leading consultants in Texas even without a sophisticated organizational initiative by GOP leaders in a lower chamber that had been their prime source for business throughout the past decade. The consultants who fared best in the opening round in 2020 will have a chance to more than offset lost primary profits with services that will be in more demand than ever in the coming months for the most critical general election in the Lone Star State since the Republican takeover here got under way in the 1990s.

The state's top Republican strategists could face their most imposing challenge of their careers in trying to guide Texas clients to this fall when President Donald Trump could be an even bigger drag on the ticket than he's been in the last two cycles as a result of the way that he's handled the coronavirus crisis. The general election campaigns appear destined to play out amid the unnerving backdrop of the worst public health emergency in more than than a century.

Murphy Nasica continued to operate in a league of its own with more wins in competitive first-round fights than any industry rivals in Texas. The firm that features Craig Murphy as its most experienced leader got a significant head start when it taught a perennial candidate in State Rep. Gary Gates how to parlay a massive money advantage into an actual victory at the ballot box. The newly-minted lawmaker from the Houston-area suburb of Rosenberg had lost a handful of legislative races and one statewide bid before enlisting Murphy Nasica en route to a monumental victory in a special election before an easy follow-up win five weeks later in his first primary test as an incumbent.

Murphy Nasica helped veteran U.S. Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth weather a concerted attempt by conservative hardliners to knock her off in the primary election this month. Murphy Nasica may have done some of its best work as the chief strategist for Genevieve Collins of Dallas and Jake Ellzey of Midlothian in hotly-contested primaries in races for Congress and the state House respectively. Ellzey will be elected without Democratic opposition in November while Collins takes aim at a Democrat who wrestled a U.S. House seat from the GOP in 2018. A pair of Murphy Nasica clients - Dallas Republicans Luisa Del Rosal and Linda Koop - will be trying to reclaim House seats that the Democrats flipped in the last cycle while the firm seeks to point GOP State Reps. Steve Allison of San Antonio and Angie Chen Button of Garland down the winning path in two of the minority party's top targets in the lower chamber in 2020.

Veteran Austin consultant Keats Norfleet turned in one of the top individual performances for a strategist in Texas in round one with the guiding role he had in San Angelo Republican August Pfluger's primary win in a field with 10 contenders in an open congressional contest in West Texas. Norfleet teamed up with Murphy Nasica on the Granger campaign and Josh Winegarner's bid for the U.S. House in an open fight that he led in the initial vote when 13 primary foes were eliminated. But the Murphy candidate was no match for Pfluger in a neighboring district where Norfleet was across the ring as the lead advisor for the eventual winner who had inherent disadvantages to overcome as a candidate from outside the Midland-Odessa area where the oil industry had a different horse in the race.

Luke Macias - the most popular consultant on the hard right throughout the past decade - eased the sting of four losing congressional races with a first-round win by Jeff Cason in an open race in a suburban district between Dallas and Fort Worth that will be high on the Democrats' hit list this fall. Macias has a pair of runoff contenders in Jon Francis and Bryan Slaton in Texas House battles that they could both win or lose.

Republican pollster Chris Perkins and GOP fundraiser Susan Lilly are back in familiar positions at the top of the leader board for consultants who are specialists in the wake of big wins in primary fights for Congress and the Legislature.

Several Texas campaign strategists had roles at the highest levels on both sides of the aisle in the 14-month period that culminated with the first-round vote. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee paid more than a quarter-million dollars to the Fort Worth-based firm Angle Mastagni Mathews for a variety of services such as polling, voter contact and data analysis. Probable White House nominee Joe Biden hired J.D. Angle's shop for research in December when the former vice-president was lagging and desperate for juice. AMM received a six-digit sum from the PAC called Need to Impeach in connection with the Democrats' push in Congress to have Trump removed from office.

Republican Mike Baselice - the most experienced polling consultant who's still active in Texas - received more than $200,000 from Donald J. Trump for President Inc. in April for his services in the early stages of a cycle that could be a springboard for the Democrats' first victory here in a race for the White House in almost four dozen years. The pro-Trump super PAC called America First Action dished out a sum of nearly six figures to veteran Texas consultant Allen Blakemore's firm in Houston for fundraising services early last year. Blakemore has ties to the president as the chief strategist for Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who's been Trump's most outspoken supporter here.

The consultants for the Republicans in Texas will either be working for the Trump campaign or trying to win in spite of it at a time when the president could be seriously damaged by the way he's been dealing with the coronavirus crisis in its early stages. The GOP's leading strategists here will have to bring A-games that are even better in a state where a dismal Trump showing could swamp candidates on the ballot below regardless of who their consultants happen to be.

Murphy Nasica has a half-dozen clients in runoffs for House seats that will be significant enemy party targets in the general election. Norfleet will be in the middle of another top-target fight as an advisor to Mansfield Mayor David Cook in an open race for the lower chamber in a pivotal swing district. The GOP strategists who will be concentrating on the legislative and congressional battlefields here are runoff election away from prime time on what promises to be the biggest stage of illustrious careers. They will be having to step outside the box to step up the game in an election season that couldn't be any more unpredictable with Trump running again amid the ominous clouds of the coronavirus.

 

Texas Campaigns Shifting to Makeshift Playing Field
Amid Fears of Coronavirus in Super Tuesday Wake

The Texas political professionals who specialize in campaign strategy are going to have to reinvent the way they do business for the time being at least on a playing field that the coronavirus is reshaping rapidly and dramatically.

Some of the campaign consultants in the Lone Star State will be making the transition immediately without the luxury of forethought or planning with candidates competing in the primary runoff election that's just two months away unless it's postponed at some point before then.

The crisis has prompted the Texas GOP to start making alternative plans for the biennial state convention that had been set for the middle of May in Houston. The Texas Democratic Party could be in the same basic boat with its state convention schedueld for early June in San Antonio.

The most successful strategists in overtime probably will be those who are best at the mail ballot game in the event that the conventional polling places don't open for business in the second round of the Texas primary election. The candidates and their guides will be venturing into uncharted territory with voter contact and turnout efforts that could be a warm up for the most important general election in Texas since the GOP took over here in the late 1990s.

But the political advisors who compiled the most impressive records during the Texas primary election this month probably can expect to have an exponential competitive edge during the coronavirus reign of terror in light of the creative ingenuity and adaptability skills that have had them at the top of their games for years. The Texas Political Consultant Scorecard for the opening round of the 2020 elections is the latest verse to the same song as far as the hired guns in the business here are concerned.

 

Jordan Berry
Most Valuable Consultant

Republican strategist Jordan Berry came within a few hundred votes of running the table on Super Tuesday when a Texas House candidate who he'd been guiding almost claimed an outright win that hadn't been anticipated in a bid for the nomination in a district that her husband used to represent. After four significant triumphs with no defeats in the initial election, Berry has a chance for a royal sweep with a victory in the GOP runoff that features Carrie Isaac as the early favorite after an opening round lead with 48 percent of the vote.

A fierce competitor in a field of bitter rivalries, Berry's most significant accomplishments arguably came with victories that Lacey Hull and Mike Schofield chalked up in two of the hottest swing districts on the lower chamber battlefield in 2020. Schofield conquered a monumental challenge in a comeback bid with a primary foe who had Governor Greg Abbott campaigning for her as an initial obstacle. Schofield had enlisted Berry in the wake of a surprise defeat in one of a dozen House districts that Democrats flipped in 2018. After falling victim to a blue wave that caught him by surprise the last time out, Schofield beat the governor's candidate by almost 6 points with nearly 53 percent of the primary vote en route to a rematch with Democratic State Rep. Gina Calanni of Katy in November.

While Schofield is a seasoned candidate in his fifth House campaign, Hull might have needed Berry as much or more in an open race in the face of primary opposition from the son of a veteran state representative and a fire-breathing activist with hardline conservatives in his camp. Hull performed like a champ in a House campaign debut with more than 59 percent on Super Tuesday as the consensus establishment candidate who has the best chance to protect one of the most vulnerable GOP seats on the ballot this year. Schofield and Hull give the ruling party a pair of formidable nominees in contests that could be game-changers in the Democratic majority quest.

Or you could argue that Berry's two most important success stories in round one came after riding to the rescue of a pair of Republicans who appeared to be in danger in State Reps. Briscoe Cain of Deer Park and Jared Patterson of Frisco. The Cain and Patterson races were more important from an insider view as litmus tests on the price of effectively spurning hard-line conservatives who'd elected them in a tradeoff for clout in the lower chamber. Patterson and Cain sparked howls among supporters on the hard right when Bonnen converted them to his short-lived leadership team more than a year ago. Patterson found himself under attack in round one from anti-Bonnen conservatives who assailed the Denton County lawmaker for failing to call for the speaker's resignation last year in the midst of the targeting controversy. Cain encountered similar criticism as a second-term representative who'd appeared in his rookie session to be patterning himself after legendary tea party renegade and colleague Jonathan Stickland before the shift to Bonnen's camp. But Cain's subtle drift into establishment waters didn't stop city and county officials from coming after him as a result of opposing positions on issues at the Capitol that affected them. Cain - like Schofield - turned to Berry after relying on a different outside advisor in his first two campaigns. Berry helped show Cain and Patterson how to have it both ways to some degree en route to first-round wins with two thirds of the vote or more in their respective districts where the challengers they faced had looked strong on paper.

After racking up 48 percent of the primary vote, Isaac could cap off an undefeated primary season for Berry in state races by beating Bud Wymore in the runoff in the House district that two Democrats and two Republicans have represented on the outer edge of the Austin area during the past 20 years. But Berry will face a much tougher test this fall with two or three candidates competing in races that could be lost causes if the national climate doesn't take a sharp turn before then.

 

Steve Ray
Most Valuable Campaign

Steve Ray might have thought that he'd been getting punked when a guy with a silver goatee showed up one day in need of guidance on how to run a statewide campaign on a shoe-string budget in a bid to unseat an incumbent with a monstrous war chest. A former newspaper columnist, Ray had evolved into a go-to guy for Republicans in the Corpus Christi area and other parts of South Texas since a mid-life career change. But Ray has been selective in terms of reserving his services for candidates who have good shots to win on paper at least. James D. Wright of Robstown was different in that respect as a political unknown who did not appear to have a prayer of beating Texas Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton in the GOP primary election this year.

Ray ran the risk of being accused of taking candy from a baby when he signed on near the end of December as Wright's chief strategist in the race for one of the three seats on the state board that regulates the oil and gas industry. With less than three months to go before the vote, Ray faced a challenge at the outset that was tantamount to mission impossible personified exponentially with the new client's maiden political voyage. But Ray knew that Wright wouldn't be just another token name on the ballot as long as he was identified as Jim - and that gave the consultant something to work with in the initial stages of a campaign that would still need multiple miracles to survive beyond March 3.

Some of Ray's closest friends and associates might have wondered if he'd been losing his mind when had a hunch at the starting gates that Jim Wright might actually have a chance to be competitive. the consultant knew that his new candidate would spark visions in older voters of the Jim Wright who'd been the most powerful Texan in Washington in the 1980s as the U.S. House speaker near the end of a long stint in a congressional district that was anchored in the Fort Worth. It didn't make a dime's worth of difference that the original Jim Wright had been a Democrat who's political career had gone down in the flames of an ethics scandal. Ray realized that the RRC hopeful had an opportunity to pick up a vote every time the sound or sight of his name prompted a voter anywhere in Texas to flash back for a second to the other Jim Wright and his signature eyebrows of bushy brown fur.

Ray of course couldn't expect to pull off the impossible with a silly edge in the name game alone in the statewide arena where his candidate would have one dollar to spend for every $67,000 that Sitton shelled out. But Ray had enough money for some highly-targeted radio and print advertising that could establish Wright as a legitimate candidate without a splash across major radar screens that would have piqued the attention of an incumbent who'd had ample cause for complacency. With Ray as the guide, Wright got off a good shot when he played up criticism that Sitton had fired at Trump before he became the president. Wright - on oil field services firm owner who's also a rancher - suggested in a radio spot that he could smell BS from a mile away in reference to some of Sitton's statements and positions on policy issues.

Ray also had a secret weapon that he claims he never used with an outbreak of rumors about Sitton's personal life that had the potential to hurt him with self-righteous primary voters. While the mainstream media wasn't touching the gossip on Sitton that was never substantiated, it found its way somehow into the hands of Republican women groups complete with a sidebar allegation on the ostensible use of a nasty obscenity to characterize a female colleague who chairs the RRC. The key at that point was reasonable restraint from a public perspective for a David campaign that didn't want Goliath to realize how badly he'd been bleeding.

Sitton discovered that the hard way when his first re-election race crashed on Super Tuesday amid a pummeling that Wright administered with more than 56 percent of the first-round vote. The new Jim Wright has a chance to prove that the most unbelievable upset of the current century if not all time in a Texas political fight wasn't a total fluke when he faces the winner of a Democratic runoff in the fight for the job that has nothing to do with train regulation.

 

PRIMARY SCORING INDEX

Statewide

Texas Statewide Competitive Race Win 6
Texas Statewide Unopposed Race Win 2
Texas Statewide Judicial Race Win 3
Texas Statewide Non-Judicial Runoff 4
Texas Statewide Race Loss 1

Congress

Texas Legislature & Congress Competitive Race Win 5
Texas Legislature & Congress Unopposed Race Win 2
Texas Legislature & Congress Race Runoff 3
Texas Legislature & Congress Race Loss 1

Bonus Points

Texas Special Election Victory 5
Texas Primary Challenger Win 5
Texas Incumbent Tier-One Win 2
Texas Fall Challenger Target Race Win 2
Texas Open Target Race Victory 2
Top 5 Democratic Presidential Campaign 4
Donald Trump GOP Presidential Campaign 6
House Speaker & Lieutenant Governor 2
Major Party Federal Political Committee 3
Major State Political Action Committee 2
Mid-Major Political Action Committee 1

 

BONUS

Texas Legislature & Congress Tier-One
Incumbent Primary Election Victories

Henry Cuellar, Kay Granger, Briscoe Cain, Alex Dominguez, Jared Patterson

Texas Legislature & Congress Wins in Target
Districts with Fall Challengers & Open Races

Joanna Cattanach, Genevieve Collins, Sharon Hirsch, Lacey Hull, Wesley Hunt, Celina Montoya, Gina Ortiz Jones, August Pfluger, Justin Ray, Mike Schofield, Mike Siegel, Jeff Whitfield

Major State & Federal Political Committees

DCCC, RNCC, America First Action, With Honor Fund, Associated Republicans of Texas, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, Texas Alliance for Life, Texas Right to Life

 

 
Jordan Berry Steve Ray

Susan Lilly Chris Perkins

Murphy Nasica

 

PRIMARY SCORECARD

 

 

General Consultants
Minimum Four Clients & 10 Points


 

Craig Murphy, Matt Brownfield, Justin Epker, Ross Hunt, Joey Parr, Blake Reynolds, Sam Spahn, Stephanie Terek
Murphy Nasica & Associates

Kay Granger, Genevieve Collins, Josh Winegarner, Brandon Batch, Larry Taylor, Dennis Bonnen, Gary Gates, Chris Paddie, Steve Allison, Trent Ashby, Ernest Bailes, Keith Bell, Greg Bonnen, Angie Chen Button, Jay Dean, Charlie Geren, Cody Harris, Justin Holland, Ken King, John Kuempel, Lyle Larson, Will Metcalf, Dade Phelan, Ed Thompson, Justin Berry, Troy Brimage, Jake Ellzey, Angelica Garcia, Luisa Del Rosal, Jim Griffin, Linda Koop, Associated Republicans of Texas, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, Texas Alliance for Life, CLEAT, Austin Police Association, Fort Worth Police Association, Arlington Police Association, Amarillo Matters


99

Jordan Berry
Berry Communications

Bryan Hughes, Charles Perry, Briscoe Cain, Jared Patterson, Brad Buckley, Dustin Burrows, Cole Hefner, Mayes Middleton, Tan Parker, Scott Sanford, Matt Shaheen, Drew Springer, Terry Wilson, Lacey Hull, Carrie Isaac, Mike Schofield


53

Keats Norfleet
Norfleet Strategies

Louie Gohmert, Kay Granger, August Pfluger, Greg Hill, Josh Winegarten, Charles Schwertner, Sam Harless, Cody Harris, Stan Lambert, Hugh Shine, David Cook, Tricia Krenek


31

Luke Macias
Macias Strategies

RJ Boatman, Chris Ekstrom, George Hindman, Chris Putnam, Kyle Biedermann, Matt Krause, Matt Schaefer, Tony Tinderholt, Steve Toth, Jeff Cason, Jon Francis, Bryan Slaton, Texas Right to Life


29

Allen Blakemore
Blakemore & Associates

Brandon Creighton, Lois Kolkhorst, Pete Flores, Dan Huberty, Jim Murphy, Tom Oliverson, Anna Allred, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, University of Houstons for Lawsuit Reform, America First Action


28

James Aldrete
Message Audience Presentation

MJ Hegar, Brandy Voss, Henry Cuellar, Sylvia Garcia, Jon Mark Hogg, Tom Ervin, Eliz Markowitz, Elisa Tamyo, House Democratic Campaign Committee, Texas Trial Lawyers Association, Texans for Insurance Reform


24

Chad Crow, Kori Crow
KC Strategies

Lance Gooden, George Hindman. Dwayne Burns, Drew Darby, Andrew Murr, Reggie Smith, Lynn Stucky, Bob Hoskins, Nancy Cline, Glenn Rogers, Bryan Slaton


24

Drew Lawson
Lawson Strategies

Jane Nelson, Geanie Morrison, Giovanni Capriglione, Luisa Del Rosal, Manish Seth, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, Texas Association of Realtors


16

Jerod Patterson, Sara Patterson
Patterson & Company

John Cyrier, Sarah Davis, J.D. Sheffield, Gary VanDeaver, Jacey Jetton, Bud Wymore


15

Matt Langstom
Big Dog Strategies

Michael McCaul, Ron Wright, Wesley Hunt, Dawn Buckingham, Ryan Pitts


14

Chris Holman
Marathon Strategic

Kevin Brady, Pierce Bush, Renee Swann, Beth Van Duyne

13
   

Specialist Consultants
Minimum Four Clients & 10 Points


 

Chris Perkins
Ragnar Research
GOP Polling

Brian Babin, Pierce Bush, August Pfluger, Randy Weber, Eleanor Vessali, Dawn Buckingham, Jane Nelson, Dennis Bonnen, Briscoe Cain, Gary Gates, Geanie Morrison, Jared Patterson, Lacey Hull, Carrie Isaac, Mike Schofield, Associated Republicans of Texas, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, Texas Charter Schools Association, Women for Winning, Houston Realty Business Coalition, With Honor Fund


92

Susan Lilly
Lilly & Company
GOP Fundraising

Nathan Hecht, Jane Bland, John Carter, Brian Babin, Kevin Brady, Michael Burgess, Kay Granger, Michael McCaul, John Ratcliffe, Scott Bland, Pierce Bush, Tony Gonzales, Wesley Hunt, Beth Van Duyne, Josh Winegarner, Chris Paddie, Steve Allison, Jay Dean, Cody Harris, Jenny Forgey, Angelica Garcia, Linda Koop, Ryan Pitts, Justin Ray, National Republican Congessional Committee, Take Back the House. Future Leaders Fund, With Honor Fund, A&M PAC


89

Spencer Neumann
Neumann & Company
GOP Mail

Kevin Brady, Dan Crenshaw, Greg Hill, Cindy Siegel, Sarah Davis, Gary Gates, Ed Thompson, Martha Fierro, Jacey Jetton, Associated Republicans of Texas


36

Todd Olsen
Upstream Communications
GOP Technology

Jane Bland, Roger Williams, Jane Nelson, August Pfluger, Renee Swann, Geanie Morrison, Kyle Kacal, Luisa Del Rosal, Jenny Forgey, Associated Republicans of Texas, Texas Forever Forward, Energize the Expo


28

Jeff Crosby
Jeff Crosby Direct Mail
Democrat Mail

Tracy King, Michelle Beckley. Harold Dutton, Art Fierro, Bobby Guerra, Texas Trial Lawyers Association


23

Mike Baselice
Baselice & Associates
GOP Polling

Donald Trump, Ryan Sitton, Kay Granger, Michael McCaul, Pete Sessions, Anna Allred, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, We Choose Our Future


20

Angle Mastagni Mathews
Angle Mastagni Mathews
Democrat Polling & Phones

Joe Biden, Cory Booker, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Need to Impeach, Working Families, Kids First


19

Jeff Norwood
Anthem Media
GOP Media

Pete Sessions, Dan Flynn, Jeff Cason, Jon Francis

16

 

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