A Tim Kaine-George Allen matchup for the open Virginia Senate seat would pit not only two political heavyweights against each other but also two teams of the top consultants in the state.
Both men have worked with some of the best and most successful strategic minds in Virginia, and state insiders expect staffers to play pivotal roles in the 2012 showdown.
Before the two worlds can collide, Allen, a former governor and Senator, must first get through a Republican primary. Thanks to his résumé and juggernaut campaign team, Allen is heavily favored to win the GOP nomination. But he is still expected to face a tough challenge from a tea party movement that surprised some GOP frontrunners in 2010.
Allen has already announced much of his team, including campaign manager Mike Thomas, who managed Allen’s successful 1993 gubernatorial race. Several Republican operatives in the state described Thomas as a talented strategist who knows the state “county-by-county, precinct-by-precinct.”
One described Thomas as “the exact opposite of Dick Wadhams,” a brash campaign hand who ran Allen’s unsuccessful bid for re-election in 2006 and was pushed aside late in the race after a campaign free fall ignited by Allen’s infamous “macaca” remark.
All the fingerprints that Wadhams had on that campaign have been wiped clean from this one. One operative compared the situation to the mismanagement of Republican Sharron Angle’s challenge to Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) last year.
“Wadhams will be as close to this campaign as Terry Campbell is to Sharron Angle’s new Congressional campaign,” the operative said.
Meanwhile, Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, still has not made his candidacy official, but he told his University of Richmond law school class recently that he is “increasingly likely to run.”
Those close to Kaine remain tight-lipped about when he will announce and whether he has begun reaching out to potential campaign staffers. Still, Democrats in the state believe he will likely turn to the group of consultants who helped him win the 2005 gubernatorial race by a margin of more than 100,000 votes.
That election was the culmination of a quick rise through the ranks for Kaine, who elevated from Richmond city councilman and mayor to lieutenant governor and then governor. (He’s never lost a race.) President Barack Obama appointed him to head the DNC with a year left in his gubernatorial term.
Among the hires Kaine would likely make, operatives said, is Alan Moore, who managed Kaine’s Coordinated Campaign in 2005 and works for the Mack Crounse Group media firm. Pete Brodnitz, a principal at Benenson Strategy Group who has worked with Kaine since his 2001 bid for lieutenant governor, would likely be brought back as Kaine’s pollster.
Other possible hires could include Larry Roberts, who left his role in the governor’s office in 2009 to become a senior adviser to Kaine at the DNC; Karl Struble and David Eichenbaum’s media firm; and veteran communications consultant Mo Elleithee.
Mike Henry, who managed Kaine’s 2005 campaign and ran the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s independent expenditures in 2006, could be brought back as well. Henry is now a senior director at the ONE Campaign.
“You probably can’t bring together a group who knows the state better,” said one Democratic operative with experience in the state. “In a presidential year with two fairly evenly matched candidates that are generally considered strong, the team can make a huge difference. And that’s a really strong team.”
Along with Mike Thomas, Allen has also brought on board several veterans of his past campaigns who have decades of combined experience in the state. Media consultants Dan Allen and Scott Howell are back, as are pollster John McLaughlin, fundraising team Benedetti & Farris, policy director Terri Hauser and adviser Boyd Marcus.
Like Thomas, Marcus is a veteran in the state whom most top Virginia GOP operatives are connected to in some way. Dan Allen, one of the former Senator’s most trusted advisers, stepped in late in the 2006 campaign to take over day-to-day operations from Wadhams.
Beyond the frontline consultants are unpaid and informal advisers to Allen, including Frank Atkinson of McGuireWoods Consulting, who held a senior role in Allen’s administration and is considered a top policy expert. Adviser Betsy Beamer was Allen’s finance director in his 1993 gubernatorial race and then appointed secretary of the Commonwealth in his administration.
Some fresh faces include Richard Crouse, the Allen campaign’s political director, and Katie Wright, communications director.
“The team looks a lot more like the successful races in 1993 and 2000 now than it did in 2006,” one GOP operative said.
“If they’re going to be successful, they need to run an issue-oriented, ideas-driven, forward-looking campaign, and get back to Allen’s strengths of retail politics and grass roots,” the source added.