December 28, 2010

Texas Political Consultants
Scorecard -
Elections 2010

Veteran GOP Advisors Run Up the Score
as Speaker Foes' Chief Strategist Claims
Top Individual Honor for Election Season

By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor

The box score in the battle for bragging rights among political consultants in Texas in 2010 contains some elements that are quantifiable and others that are more subjective and harder to measure. Winning is the ultimate objective in a profession as competitive as campaign consulting - and the best thing about winning is the fact that it's good for business. So the hired gun strategists who advised multiple candidates during the year gone by will measure success by the records they compiled, the significance of the races they worked - and last but never least - the money they made plying their trade in a banner election season for Republicans.

The two firms with the most points by far on the final Capitol Inside scorecard for Texas political consultants in 2010 - The Election Group and Murphy Turner & Associates - were in position to win more races at the state level because they represented more candidates than their rivals in the business. But that increased the likelihood for some losses that both shops sustained during the GOP primary when Republicans couldn't win every race in sight like they came close to doing this fall.

The third-ranking Texas consultant for the primary, general election and special elections combined - Kevin Brannon of Allen - didn't win as many races as the two firms with higher overall scores. But Brannon chose to keep his list of clients to a minimum so he could concentrate more on each campaign that he did represent - and the efforts he contributed in three fiercely-contested legislative battles that posed dramatically different challenges earned him the title of most valuable political consultant in Texas in 2010. Brannon's affiliation with the conservative opposition in the state House speaker's race has made him one of the more controversial political figures in Texas this year as well.

The Election Group that's led by veteran Fort Worth strategist Bryan Eppstein and Austin's Keats Norfleet finished with the most cumulative points for the entire election season in the general consultants category. Eppstein's team claimed most valuable consultant honors for the primary election and capped off the year with a victory in a special Texas House race by the son of a longtime legislator and client who died two days after the general election. The team of Craig Murphy and Chris Turner had the second highest total on the consultant scoring chart for the year that expires this weekend after being named most valuable consultant for the general election last month.

Republican Mike Baselice of Austin was a runaway winner in the specialty consultants division as the chief pollster for Governor Rick Perry's re-election campaign, several state House incumbents and more than a dozen candidates who won seats in the Legislature's lower chamber that were open or being defended by Democrats. The GOP's Jeff Norwood scored more points than any other campaign media specialist while Republicans Susan Lilly and John Doner were neck-and-neck on the scoring chart as the two most successful campaign fundraisers in Texas this year. James Aldrete, who runs the Austin-based firm Message Audience Presentation, received the most points for a general consultant in campaigns for Democrats while pollster Jeff Smith of Opinion Analysts was the top-ranking specialty consultant on that side of the aisle in what turned out to be a nightmarish election year for the state's minority party.

The defining achievement this year for Eppstein and his associates was arguably the success they had protecting incumbent House Republicans amid challenges from the right during the primary. Eppstein and company topped that off by helping first-time House hopefuls like Charles Schwertner of Georgetown and John Kuempel of Seguin post wins in the GOP primary and a December special election respectively in crowded fields of candidates without the need for runoffs. Eppstein's group recorded key victories in statewide and major local contests as well when Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett won re-election bids last month. The Emmett race posed the added challenge of being squeezed on the ballot in an obscure place between contests for family district judge and county court at law. But after The Election Group publicized the whereabouts of the county judge competition on the ballot with television advertising that voters won't soon forget, Emmett turned out to be the only countywide candidate to top the 60 percent mark in a county with a larger population than 26 states.

The Murphy Turner duo's most notable accomplishments this year included victories in November by three Republican challengers in battles for seats that Democrats have held in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and East Texas along with a commanding win by State Rep. Joe Driver of Garland despite a furor over travel billings in the final months of his re-election campaign. MTA, which operates out of Arlington and Austin, scored a pivotal victory when Debra Lehrmann won a hotly contested primary runoff for Texas Supreme Court. The firm also had a role in a historic judicial retention election in Iowa where three high court members were ousted by voters after joining the majority in a ruling that legalized gay marriage there. Murphy Turner worked on Kuempel's campaign in the special election in December as well.

The election year that just ended provided springboard opportunities for some of the GOP's up-and-coming consultants like Jordan Berry and Corbin Casteel, who helped challengers knock off two House Democrats each at the polls last month. The list of Republican consultants who represented candidates who defeated Democratic incumbents in House races this fall includes Jason Johnson, Eric Bearse, Steve Ray and Reb Wayne. Berry threw his first strike in a breakthrough election season as Charles Perry's chief strategist in a winning GOP primary battle with veteran State Rep. Delwin Jones of Lubbock.

Veteran consultant Allen Blakemore reinforced his reputation as the top Republican strategist in Houston when he guided State Reps. Ken Legler and Dwayne Bohac to victories in races that Democrats had targeted this year. Blakemore also served as Jim Murphy's chief advisor when he unseated Democratic State Rep. Kristi Thibaut in their second consecutive rematch.

While the rivalries between the top Republican consultants at the state level intensified during the GOP's best year in Texas ever, Governor Rick Perry's inner circle of advisors had no competition in the running for best statewide effort in both the GOP primary and general election in 2010. Perry's team - like the state's longest serving governor himself - keeps getting better each time he runs.

The governor had longtime Perry advisor Dave Carney of New Hampshire back in his role as the general consultant. Rob Johnson stepped in for the first time as campaign manager after serving as Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst's chief of staff and running his two previous campaigns for the post he won again this fall. Mark Miner moved from the governor's office to the campaign to oversee the communications effort while longtime Perry strategists David Weeks and Baselice handled the media and polling like they've been doing since the 1990s.

The final consultants scorecard for 2010 is a cumulative tally of the points that they earned for the primary election, the general election and special elections in state-level races. The most points generally are awarded for victories in the most competitive races with several other factors taken into account like whether a candidate was an incumbent or challenger. The point systems are outlined in the consultant scorecards for each separate election this year at the links above.

SPECIAL HONORS

Consultant of the Year
Kevin Brannon

Most Valuable Consultant - General
Murphy Turner & Associates

Best Team Effort - General
Berry Communications, Wilson Research Strategies

Best Team Effort - Primary
Rick Perry Campaign

Best Regional Effort - General
Steve Ray Associates

Best Single Shot
Todd Smith & Associates

General Consultants
Primary, General and Special Elections
Multiple Clients - 30 Point Minimum

Bryan Eppstein, Keats Norfleet, John Shults,
Judd Pritchard, Chris Keffer, Tyler Hargrave

The Election Group

175

Craig Murphy, Chris Turner
Murphy Turner & Associates

155

Kevin Brannon
The Patriot Group

89

James Aldrete
Message Audience Presentation

80

Allen Blakemore, Elizabeth Blakemore
Blakemore & Associates

80

Eric Bearse
Bearse & Company

70

Chris Homan
Marathon Strategic Communications

70

Reb Wayne
Mesa Media

67

Jason Johnson
J2 Strategies

60

Jordan Berry
Berry Communications

61

Corbin Casteel, Ryan Erwin
Casteel Erwin & Associates

59

Dan McClung, Reed Hibbitts, Robert Jara
Campaign Strategies

54

Todd Smith
Todd Smith & Associates

52

Steve Ray
Steve Ray Associates

51

Ted Delisi
Delisi Communications

49

Todd Olsen, Kevin Shuvalov
Olsen & Shuvalov

39

Mari Woodlief, Brian Mayes
Allyn Media

38

Jeff Crosby
Jeff Crosby Direct Mail

36

Christian Anderson
Election Support Services

33

Jeff Hewitt
Hewitt Campaigns

31

Randy Thompson
Thompson Group

30

Specialist Consultants
Primary, General and Special Elections
Multiple Clients - 30 Point Minimum

Mike Baselice
Baselice & Associates

Republican
Polling

120

Jeff Norwood
Anthem Media
Republican Media

86

Susan Lilly
Lilly & Associates
Republican Fundraising

81

John Doner
John Doner & Associates
Republican Fundraising

80

Jeff Smith
Opinion Analysts
Democrat Polling

74

Ed Valentine
Valentine Direct Marketing
Republican Mail

69

Matt Brownfield, Justin Epker, Ross Hunt
Nasica Consulting Services
Republican Grassroots

48

Brian Berry
Strategy Group
Republican Media

47

David Weeks
Weeks & Co.
Republican Media

40

Chris Wilson, Chris Perkins
Wilson Research Strategies
Republican Polling

34

Alison McIntosh
The McIntosh Company
Republican Fundraising

33

Dean Rindy
Rindy Miller Media
Democrat Media

32

Heidi Kirkpatrick
Lone Star Strategies
Democrat Fundraising

30

Spencer Neumann
Neumann & Company
Republican Mail

30

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