The Winners Circle: Primary Campaign Consultants

And the winner of the best primary strategy is ...

This week, Shop Talk examines teams behind three campaigns with strategies and ads that helped catapult their candidates to primary victories this cycle.

Primary season nears halftime on Tuesday, after which 26 states will have voted for their House and Senate nominees. So far, the most high-profile primaries featured Republicans, and these three GOP campaigns overcame the odds and crowded fields to win their respective nominations in a cycle that so far has produced few upsets.

Here are three campaign teams whose game plans made a difference for their respective candidates in tough races:

Attorney John Ratcliffe Texas’ 4th District

There was plenty of hype — and big bucks — behind primary challenges to GOP Reps. Walter B. Jones in North Carolina, Mike Simpson in Idaho and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky. But all three easily survived.

The surprise incumbent upset of this cycle? Attorney John Ratcliffe’s bid to unseat Rep. Ralph M. Hall in Texas. Ratcliffe pushed the 91-year-old Republican into a May 27 runoff, when he defeated the congressman by 6 points. He’s the first candidate to oust a sitting member this cycle and is almost certainly coming to Congress.

Ratcliffe won the nod in large part because Hall was unprepared to run a 21st century campaign against a well-funded opponent. But much of his victory is a result of smart campaign strategy. Here’s his team:

General Consultant: Cam Savage, Limestone Strategies

Campaign Manager: Daniel Kroese

Media: Jonathan Poe, Rising Tide Media Group

Mail: Martin Baker, Political Ink

Digital: 0ptimus

Polling: Randy Gutermuth, American Viewpoint

State Sen. Joni Ernst Iowa Senate Race

Ernst’s campaign proved that just one ad can change a race.

In early March, the Republican state senator trailed in polls and fundraising in a crowded field of second-tier recruits in Iowa. After several top Iowa Republicans declined to run, party operatives feared they wouldn’t have a viable nominee in this prime Senate pickup opportunity.

Enter the castrated hogs.

In an ad, Ernst argued her experience “castrating hogs on an Iowa farm” would help her “cut pork” in Washington, D.C. It catapulted her to national headlines.

On June 3, Ernst defeated the other Republicans in the race, including wealthy businessman Mark Jacobs. Her margin was so large that Republicans avoided an unpredictable nominating convention. She will face Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, in November in this open-seat race.

Malorie Thompson and Lori Raad of Something Else Strategies were behind the viral spot.

“She needed people to pay attention,” Raad said in an interview about the spot. “She didn’t need an ad that told you all her policies; we needed an ad that made people say, ‘Wait, we want to know more about her.’ ”

Raad credits Ernst’s delivery and Thompson’s editing with the result.

“We took words that were natural to [Ernst] and felt that we knew she could deliver, and packaged it in a way that worked,” Raad said. “We’re proud of the art element of it.”

GOP businessman Curt Clawson Florida’s 19th District

It’s hard out there for a political outsider. They haven’t fared well this cycle.

But Clawson — a wealthy businessman running his first campaign — defeated two state legislators in an April 22 special primary. He’s on track to win the June 24 special election and succeed former Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., in this strong GOP district.

Republican operatives credit Clawson’s slick ads, including one where the former college basketball player challenged President Barack Obama to a three-point shooting contest.

Here is Clawson’s team:

General consultant: John Yob, Strategic National

Media consultant: Strategy Group for Media

Pollster: Gene Ulm, Public Opinion Strategies

Direct mail: Erica Yob, E Design

Digital consultant: Ethan Eilon, Pulse Red

Abby Livingston contributed to this report. Please send news of developments in the political industry to shoptalk@rollcall.com and follow us on Twitter @RCShopTalk.

A earlier version of this article misidentified the firm that did digital work for Ratcliffe's campaign. It is 0ptimus.

Topics: