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Crowded Field Leaves Candidates In Search of Good Campaign Help

These are heady days for Republican consultants, with an unusually large number of open seats creating a bumper crop of primary campaigns along with a challenge: finding enough staff to work them.

W. Corbin Casteel, President of Four One Three Communications and political consultant, works from his home office in west Austin on December 18, 2013.
These are heady days for Texas Republicans, with an unusually large number of open statewide seats creating a bumper crop of 2014 primary campaigns.

While that translates to a lot of business for the political consultants hired to help steer the campaigns, it brings challenges as well. Most notably, all of the campaigns are trying to staff up at the same time, leading to a shortage of qualified personnel.

“Finding quality staff is a challenge,” said Corbin Casteel, whose clients at his consulting firm, FourOneThree Communications, include a candidate for chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court, one for the Railroad Commission, and someone hoping to succeed U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas.

When Casteel talks about quality staff, he is not necessarily referring to the specialty fields of pollster or media buyer. He is talking about the campaign managers who are on the ground solving the everyday problems that come up over the course of a campaign.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn are the only statewide elected officials running for re-election. There are open seats for governor, attorney general, comptroller, agriculture commissioner, land commissioner and railroad commissioner.

In the Republican races for governor and land commissioner, Greg Abbott and George P. Bush, respectively, are heavily favored. But the contests for lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller and agriculture commissioner have drawn multiple candidates who are either current or former officeholders with their own set of supporters.

The large number of statewide campaigns is what makes this primary election cycle different from past ones, said Craig Murphy, a Republican consultant of Murphy Nasica & Associates. “They are sucking up so much manpower and womanpower,” he said. “They’re making a drought situation” in the campaign labor pool.

Allen Blakemore of Blakemore & Associates, a Houston-based consultant whose clients include state Sen. Dan Patrick, a Houston Republican who is challenging Dewhurst, said the number of campaigns “means full employment for us all,” but he acknowledged the pressure in finding good help. He noted that the primary contest to fill the congressional seat vacated by Stockman, a Republican from Friendswood, has drawn a dozen candidates.

“I’m not sure there are 12 good campaign managers left,” Blakemore said.

Both Murphy and Casteel said they were actively looking for help. Casteel, who has three staff members, said that experience was considered a bonus but that the right attitude was a must. “They don’t necessarily need experience,” he said. “The best campaign operative figures it out.”

He also mentioned another challenge that no doubt feels familiar to the larger world of business professionals — the tyranny of the smartphone. He said he deals with a steady stream of text messages and Facebook posts from the time he wakes up at 6 a.m. until “whatever time our brain stops functioning” at night.

The better consultants know how to scale up their operations without any drop-off in service, said Murphy, whose firm has 16 employees. It will be interesting to see, he said, how some consultants who have not had as many clients deal with new demands.

Blakemore said he had more than doubled the size of his office staff to 14 from six employees. It just makes for additional challenges running a bigger business.

Meeting those challenges involves hitting the fundamentals — fundraising and block walking — as soon as possible, Murphy said. He takes pride in his clients who were first-term legislators in 2013, after winning tough races, and did not draw 2014 primary opponents.

“Sometimes it’s the preparation that saves the battle,” Murphy said.

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Politics 2014 elections