Just a couple of months after helping direct $65 million in 77 House races across the country, media consultant John Lapp was in Wisconsin pitching a candidate for county executive.
It didn’t seem like much at the time — a fun, off-year race for the former executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and senior adviser to the DCCC’s independent expenditure last cycle — but it turned into a symbolic victory for Democrats nationally.
On Tuesday, political neophyte Chris Abele (D) defeated state Rep. Jeff Stone (R) in the nominally nonpartisan race for Milwaukee County executive to take over the office vacated by Gov. Scott Walker (R).
“We always thought it would be a referendum on Walker and change, but certainly the scope of the race increased exponentially as the Walker showdown drew national attention,” Lapp said Wednesday. The Abele campaign spent approximately $700,000 on television and radio ads.
National media consultants get involved in off-year races for various reasons, but it’s rarely for the money or the fame.
About an hour south of Milwaukee in Illinois, City Councilwoman Nancy Rotering was elected mayor of Highland Park, population 35,000, on Tuesday by 347 votes.
Her media consultant is Eric Adelstein and his Chicago-based firm Adelstein Liston did television ads for the Service Employees International Union and American Federation of Teachers for Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential race. It also has worked on dozens of races for the DCCC, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and EMILY’s List, along with work for Democratic Reps. Mazie Hirono (Hawaii), Bobby Rush (Ill.), and Ben Ray Luján (N.M.), but took on the Rotering race because she was “a friend of a friend.”
“There’s not the same financial stress in the off-year. It’s much more of a break-even operation,” explained Adelstein. “The goal for us is to do well enough, revenue-wise, in the election year to reduce some of the financial stress in the off-year.”
“Anything you get in the off-year is just gravy,” added one GOP media consultant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to avoid demeaning his 2011 clients.
Adelstein also worked on the mayoral race in Springfield, Ill., after aides to Sen. Dick Durbin (D) asked his firm to help out Sheila Stocks-Smith, the former director of the city’s Office of Education Liaison. She lost Tuesday’s runoff to former Mayor Mike Houston.
It’s often a personal or professional connection that draws consultants to these races. Consultants specialize in a specific region or state, or they’ve worked well with a campaign manager in one race and then get asked to do another when that aide moves to another candidate.
This year, Lapp is working with businessman Adam Edelen (D) in the race for state auditor in Kentucky. A decade ago, Lapp was chief of staff for then-Rep. Ken Lucas (D-Ky.). Now, Ralston Lapp Media works for Kentucky Rep. Ben Chandler (D).
Former DCCC Executive Director Jon Vogel lived in Evansville, Ind., for a year, a key reason his new firm Murphy Vogel Askew Reilly is helping elect Troy Tornatta mayor of the city, even though the company usually works on a much larger stage with clients including governors, Senators and Obama’s presidential campaign.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with Faye, a pot belly pig, after a news conference held by Citizens Against Government Waste at the Phoenix Park Hotel to release the 2015 Congressional Pig Book which identifies pork-barrel spending in Congress, May 13, 2015.