The GOP presidential candidates are making their final cases on Iowa’s airwaves, and one ad man — Rex Elsass of the Strategy Group for Media — has worked for three of them.
Elsass’ central Ohio-based firm is doing the media work for former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.). Earlier this year he shot ads for Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), and in 2008, he was Texas Rep. Ron Paul’s media guy.
That might not be unheard of, but in this case the consultant has taken advantage of overlapping relationships with rival candidates. Gingrich has vowed not to run negative ads and has decried the super PACs that have incessantly attacked him through radio and television. But should he survive Iowa and forge ahead, Gingrich will likely have the money for a major ad blitz. And Elsass isn’t always known for staying positive.
In fact, Gingrich’s ad man has “a reputation for winning, no matter what it takes,” according to the Columbus Dispatch, which has long chronicled Elsass’ firm.
In the tiny world of political consulting, reputations and history have long life spans, especially when a firm does so much business.
“When you get into the race, he’s the first guy that contacts you,” one former client said.
Some of Elsass’ former clients and his competitors, unprompted, offered examples of his work that they considered, at the very least, to be poor form.
The most egregious, and one Elsass has previously said he regrets, came in 2007 when he found himself in the unusual position of having two former clients running against each other in a Republican Congressional primary.
Rep. Bob Latta faced Steve Buehrer in Ohio, and Elsass made an attack ad for Latta. The spot included Buehrer sticking out his tongue at the camera, an outtake from footage Elsass had captured at Buehrer’s home back when the man was a Strategy Group client.
“It potentially puts a chilling effect on every campaign in Ohio,” Buehrer told the Dispatch at the time. “How can you trust as you stand in front of a camera that the vendor you’re paying won’t turn around and sell that to your adversaries? As a lawyer, if I did that, I’d be disbarred.”
Consultants from across the country said Elsass’ name is still associated with the dust-up, even though he apologized.
“If I was Bachmann right now I’d be worried they’d use some of my B-roll,” one consultant said. “History shows that he’d use something against her.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.