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Shop Talk: The Winning and Losing Consultants of the '12 Cycle

Politics being a binary sport, there were clear winners and losers Nov. 6 among the consultant class. While there were certainly exceptions, the two lists were largely divided by party.

There has been plenty of soul-searching across the Republican hemisphere in the past week, as pre-election GOP polling had painted a rosy picture that made election night returns a shock to many. Republicans expected a far different election outcome than what transpired, and the blame is getting spread around.

In the neutral political environment of 2012, candidates and campaigns mattered more than ever. That was evident for Republicans in races across the country, as President Barack Obama won re-election convincingly and Democrats gained seats in both the Senate and House.

Republican insiders have said they’re hoping GOP pollsters take some time for reflection to decipher why their expectations for the electorate looked vastly different than reality. Democrats enjoyed a 6-point turnout advantage and a demographic breakdown that went the party’s way as well.

The consultants who helped run the campaigns are either receiving the glory or the blame. This column looks at notable polling and media consultants that landed in the winners and losers columns, and a few up-and-coming consultants and firms to watch going forward.

Winners

• Benenson Strategy Group: Obama’s polling firm helped lead the way to 332 electoral votes and a popular vote advantage of more than 3 million. The president’s team remained confident heading into Election Day, even as GOP nominee Mitt Romney appeared in position to pull out a victory. The polling firm was also dead-on accurate in Rep. Mazie K. Hirono’s Democratic primary victory over former Rep. Ed Case in Hawaii and in Democrat Tim Kaine’s defeat of George Allen for Virginia’s open Senate seat.

• Global Strategy Group: Prominent Democratic pollster Jef Pollock, who was named the 2011 pollster of the year by the American Association of Political Consultants, had another strong showing this cycle. Beyond committee independent expenditure work, Pollock polled for Priorities USA, Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly’s Indiana Senate campaign and a long list of House candidates that included Reps. John F. Tierney of Massachusetts and Mike McIntyre of North Carolina, and former Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona, Carol Shea-Porter of New Hampshire and Dan Maffei of New York.

• GMMB: The media firm had its hand in races at all levels across the country. It was also successful in a Maryland ballot initiative that expanded gambling, something everyone with a television in the Washington, D.C., media market knew about. Among its accomplishments, Senior Vice President Dan Jester led the Obama campaign’s media buying effort, and the firm teamed up with a coalition of environmental groups in an effort to shape opinion early on in the Senate races in Maine, Montana, New Mexico and Wisconsin. Democrats won the latter three, and former Maine Gov. Angus King, an independent, is expected to caucus with Democrats in the Senate.

• MVAR Media: This Democratic firm led by Steve Murphy and Jon Vogel, among others, hit it out of the park again with some of the best television ads of the cycle. Few spots were as memorable as those of Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., who appeared to have his ticket home punched by a brutal redistricting. Instead, he won by more than 7 points. The firm also had success stories in New York for the campaigns of vulnerable Reps. Timothy H. Bishop and Bill Owens, as well as numerous independent expenditures for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Majority PAC, including for Reps. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and McIntyre.

Losers

• Public Opinion Strategies: In a bad cycle for Republicans, the party’s largest polling firm inevitably had a less-than-stellar year. Some of the notables among the POS client list were big ones: Romney, Massachusetts Sen. Scott P. Brown, Florida Rep. Allen B. West and Mia Love, who lost to Matheson despite a big win in Utah by Romney.

• McLaughlin & Associates: One of the most prominent GOP polling firms had a tough cycle in several competitive races. Just on the Senate side, the firm polled on behalf of George Allen in Virginia, Richard Mourdock in Indiana, Linda McMahon in Connecticut and Tom Smith in Pennsylvania.

• Rising Tide Media Group: This firm produced the ads in two of the biggest disappointments for Senate Republicans. Nowhere was the candidate and campaign quality disparity starker than in the North Dakota and Montana Senate races. Democrats Sen. Jon Tester and former North Dakota Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp both emerged victorious, even as Romney won both states by more than 13 points. Republicans ran statewide elected officials in both races, Reps. Denny Rehberg and Rick Berg, yet both faced high unfavorable ratings that failed to dissipate.

Consultants and Firms to Watch

• Three Point Media: The players in this firm, founded in 2009, might not be new, but they landed Three Point’s first IE contract with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and went on to produce ads that helped win crucial races. Their DCCC IE ads ran on behalf of Barrow and Tierney, as well as in the battleground districts of Illinois’ 12th, Nevada’s 4th and California’s 52nd. After making a splash, this firm will likely feature an expanded portfolio going forward.

• Rookie Republican media consultants: Three rookie GOP media consultants left marks this cycle, according to GOP insiders, and are ones to watch headed into the 2014 midterms. They include Andy Seré of DMM Media, Bob Honold of Revolution and Casey Phillips of RedPrint Strategy. All three previously worked at the National Republican Congressional Committee in some capacity.

Please send news of developments in the political industry to shoptalk@rollcall.com.

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