Outsider candidates for Congress seek insider help in general election
Sunday, June 13, 2010
House candidate Raul Labrador won his May 25 Republican primary in Idaho with a brain trust that included a high school student and a budget so meager the campaign's ad operation consisted of a few radio spots and a flier mailed to 2,500 voters.
"We hoped most of them had multiple personalities," joked Labrador adviser Dennis Mansfield.
Labrador, along with Senate candidates Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Sharron Angle (R-Nev.) and Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), won their races in part because they didn't come across as overly polished pols. Their shoestring budgets and rickety campaign operations gave them an authentic, unpackaged appeal. But while "tea party" and other grass-roots activists may have helped propel these candidates in the first round, the next one requires competing in "very sophisticated, expensive and probably negative" general election contests, said Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "That calls for a different kind of discipline and expertise."
And so, as they prepare their general election campaigns against well-financed and well-prepared opponents, some outsider candidates -- who made their names denouncing Washington's professional political class -- are quietly looking to insider political consultants, fundraisers and admakers for help.
Labrador spent three days in Washington last week meeting fundraisers, advertising consultants and other D.C. power brokers of the sort he pilloried on the campaign trail for playing favorites with his primary opponent, Vaughn Ward. The two-term state representative now knows that he needs their dollars and expertise to unseat a well-funded Democratic rival, Rep. Walter Minnick.
The same is true of Angle, whose victory on Tuesday means that she will go up against one of the Democratic giants on the ballot this year, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid. Angle is scheduled to visit Washington this week to meet the GOP brass she ridiculed in her long-shot primary race. And later this month, Paul is scheduled to attend a Washington fundraiser with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who backed Paul's primary opponent, Trey Grayson.
Angle is moving quickly to pull together a professional operation. She has hired a team of Washington-based consultants and signed an online fundraising outfit that worked for Republican Sen. Scott Brown's winning campaign in Massachusetts in January. By day's end Friday, Angle's campaign expected to have collected more than $500,000 in online contributions since she claimed victory Tuesday night.
This is quite a change for Angle. In her primary-night speech, she thanked two staffers -- Terry Campbell and Jerry Stacy. She didn't thank anyone else -- but there was almost no one else. Campbell and Stacy served as consultants, each collecting $2,000 a month, with Campbell effectively holding the post that would normally be called campaign manager and Stacy serving in the press secretary job.
A half-dozen other consultants were on the payroll, but no one worked for the campaign full time. As of Friday morning, the campaign's news releases were still coming from an AT&T e-mail address. She outsourced some campaign jobs to conservative interest groups, such as the Club for Growth and Freedom Works, which made get-out-the-vote calls and sent e-mails on her behalf.
Outsiders win primaries and general elections in every election cycle and usually are quickly embraced by their parties. But this year, making the transition from outsider to insider might be trickier, given that they were propelled at least in part by voter anger with the political status quo. Larry Hart, a media consultant who advises Angle, said her team is fully aware of the risks of appearing to have "gone Washington." That won't happen, he said. "She's down-home."
On the Democratic side, Sestak ran a successful primary campaign against Sen. Arlen Specter by attacking Democratic leaders for sticking with a party switcher. Like Paul, Sestak had ample financial resources but chose to run his campaign with little professional help from inside the Beltway.
Now Sestak, too, is turning to national Democrats to help him outmaneuver his Republican opponent, former representative Pat Toomey. "There are credible portions of the establishment that we want to be aligned with," he said.