The bug delayed his graduation date by a couple of years, as Phillips took semesters off to work on campaigns. The first was in 2004 as political director on the Texas congressional campaign of Lyle Thorstenson, where he put together his first get-out-the-vote operation.
After the unsuccessful primary, media consultant Sonny Scott recommended Phillips move to southwest Virginia to serve the same role in Kevin Triplett’s congressional campaign for the general. Afterward, the NRCC asked him to help with now-Rep. Charles Boustany Jr.’s runoff in Louisiana.
Phillips finished his degree in spring 2005 before GOP operative Ward Baker asked him to run Anne B. Crockett-Stark’s campaign for Virginia delegate — his first race as campaign manager. On a shoestring budget, Phillips lived in an abandoned gas station, and the campaign was run out of a condemned house, where he laid down a linoleum floor and painted the walls.
The Red Jeep
As Phillips crisscrossed the country for campaigns, followed by field work for the NRCC and RSLC, the one constant was his 1999 red Jeep Grand Cherokee. After a dozen campaigns and nearly 200,000 miles, the SUV has been through a lot — it’s on its second engine, transmission and driver-side bucket seat, and the ceiling is completely covered in campaign stickers.
As he regularly does, Phillips had to jump-start the Jeep last week when he took CQ Roll Call on a quick spin. The engine’s screeching moan leaves the impression it might be suffering through its final days, but after his rookie season as a media consultant, Phillips is just getting started.
“I wasn’t going to be able to pitch against [GOP consultant heavyweights] Mike McElwain and Scott Howell and Fred Davis for congressional clients, but I could sure go to Mississippi and pitch against whoever was doing stuff down there for state Senate clients,” Phillips said.
RedPrint’s first ad ever, in 2011, was for a Mississippi agriculture commissioner candidate. It earned the firm a Pollie Award, which led to work for the NRCC and Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., Phillips’ home-state congresswoman.
The Jeep made a cameo in an NRCC ad against Rep.-elect Steven Horsford, D-Nev. An actor playing Horsford crashed a car into the Jeep and then drove off, part of an ad campaign arguing that Horsford played by his own rules.
Another NRCC ad Phillips produced against a few California Democrats riffed on John Hancock ads that featured no talking — just people texting or chatting online to convey the message. The format allowed Phillips to shoot the ad before the Supreme Court ruled on the health care law in June, then slide in the text based on whatever happened. The court upheld the law on a Thursday, Phillips finished the ads in a few hours, and the NRCC launched the inexpensive campaign the following Monday.
“In a world that’s filled with consultants and vendors, he’s found a way to stick out amongst the crowd very quickly,” said Brian O. Walsh, president of the American Action Network and a friend of Phillips. “He’s part of this universe of the next generation of folks that are stepping into the marketplace.”