For Texas Republicans with statewide ambitions, selecting a consultant used to be a no-brainer. You hired Karl Rove if you could afford him.
Rove helped make George W. Bush, Rick Perry, Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn household names in Texas, just as it was transitioning from Democratic to Republican rule. But after he got Bush elected president in 2000, Rove left Texas and a huge void was opened up that other consultants eventually filled.
A similar dynamic is playing out again in Texas after the 2012 elections shook things up, but it’s not clear yet who will rise to the top.
The name on everyone’s lips is Jason Johnson, the savvy East Texan who took Ted Cruz from relative obscurity to national political figure. He only has one other client — state Rep. Connie Scott of Corpus Christi — but finding work won’t be a problem for Johnson now.
He ran Greg Abbott’s first campaign for attorney general in 2002 and was his consultant in the next two. He’s also been a consultant to Todd Staples, and a variety of state legislators, in past elections.
Johnson has an Atwateresque feel for the electorate, and beating the establishment against long odds is always a good thing to put on your resume. He still has to guide Cruz through the November election, which the Republican is heavily favored to win. But there will be plenty of opportunities for Johnson in 2014 if he wants to take them.
Of course, it would help to know who’s going to be running for the top spots. Both Perry and David Dewhurst say they plan to run for for re-election, but they have plenty of time to change their minds.
For years, Dave Carney was Perry’s top dog, having guided him to every statewide election victory since the 1998 lieutenant governor’s race. But he got pushed out of the governor’s flailing presidential campaign last November by de-facto campaign manager Joe Allbaugh, and Carney’s professional relationship with Perry appears to be over.
After the presidential campaign ended, Carney wound up running Dewhurst’s ill-fated Senate campaign. While the consecutive losses dimmed Carney's star, associates say it’s premature to count him out of big-time Texas politics.
Todd Olsen, who took over Rove’s business when he left for Washington, ran previous races for Hutchison and Cornyn and is still working for the soon-to-be senior U.S. senator from Texas.
There are a couple of other names that deserve the bold-faced treatment. Eric Bearse, Perry’s former speechwriter, seems to be working for everybody, and he’s well-positioned for 2014. Bearse still writes speeches for Perry and is a top consultant to Abbott, Comptroller Susan Combs and House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio. Cruz pollster Chris Perkins is also considered to be a rising star in GOP consulting circles.
Another up-and-comer is Jordan Berry, 32, an Athens native who won seven of the eight House races he took on in 2012. Berry just got snapped up by the Cruz campaign to help out Johnson as a consultant — his first paid statewide gig.
Look for Berry to make a big play in 2014.