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Gingrich Ad Maker Has Reputation, Long Client List

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Newt Gingrich has vowed not to run negative ads in his campaign for president, but his ad man, Rex Elsass, has not been afraid to attack his clients’ opponents.

But Bachmann campaign manager Keith Nahigian told Roll Call that the Congresswoman was pleased with the work Elsass did for her and that some of it is likely to appear in her new campaign ads, which will be edited by another firm.

“He has always been really professional and does great work. We own all this great, great footage. You use a lot of vendors during a campaign,” said Nahigian, who himself rose from consultant to campaign manager when Ed Rollins quit working for Bachmann’s effort.

Do Elsass’ former clients have anything to worry about? “Of course not,” a Strategy Group for Media source told Roll Call.

Of course, borrowing ideas swings both ways.

Elsass made an ad for then-Senate candidate Rand Paul — son of the Congressman — showcasing the Kentucky Republican as willing to fight the “Washington Machine.” Sound familiar? Ron Paul’s newest ad in Iowa says the Congressman is the one man standing against the “Washington Machine.”

A 1994 incident also mars Elsass’ reputation. He had been serving as executive director of the Ohio Republican Party and left to work for Bernadine Healy’s Senate primary bid against then-Lt. Gov. Mike DeWine.

When voters received anti-DeWine mailers, the state party realized its donor list had been snatched. Two sources said Elsass settled with the party and that tension still lingers within the DeWine family. The Dispatch described it as “a scandal involving a list of campaign contributors that was stolen from the party,” and the Sentinel-Tribune said the primary was tainted “by the unauthorized sharing of a coveted Republican donor list.”

The Sentinel-Tribune also reported that Elsass “conceived the infamous 2000 ads against Ohio Supreme Court Justice Alice Robie Resnick,” earning the state “a reputation for some of the harshest campaigning in the nation.”

“Both the contributions behind and the content of the ads were found to be illegal by the Ohio Elections Commission,” according to the Sentinel-Tribune.

One Republican political consultant remembered Elsass pitching a candidate an ad, and then noticing he later made a remarkably similar spot for the candidate’s primary rival.

Another consultant said a client went to the trouble of writing a legalese-laced letter warning Elsass that his footage could never be used elsewhere.

“This is not a person who lacks skill,” said a Republican who is familiar with Elsass’ work and reputation. “The rap on this guy is that he ... plays it over the line.”

Others recognized both his talent and his style.

Elsass has been known to ask his clients to bow their heads in prayer during official meetings. The Strategy Group source said employees “are encouraged to practice their faith openly.”

Elsass declined to be interviewed for this article, but the Strategy Group source pointed Roll Call to its nearly 40 “Pollie” awards for political ad work and noted that the Strategy Group in 2010 helped to elect more Republican Members of Congress than any other firm.

Among the prominent ads the Strategy Group created in 2010 were spots for Wisconsin Republican Sean Duffy, featuring the former “Real World” star swinging an ax and logrolling. Duffy won his race.

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