Same Old Faces

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  June 24, 2010

Consultants favored by State Senate President Therese Murray or House Speaker Robert DeLeo, for instance, tend to have little trouble finding work, in addition to what they charge the Democratic House and Senate Political Action Committees (PACs). Ditto with favorites of Patrick, who controls the Democratic state party.

To stay in good graces with powers-that-be like Murray or Patrick, Democratic consultants typically shun candidates on the outs with those leaders — like independent candidate for governor Tim Cahill. Cahill has had to reach out of state for most of his help: his pollster, marketers, and Web site consultants all hail from Virginia, while his top consultant, John Yob of Strategic National, is in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Of course, in the last gubernatorial go-around it was Patrick who had difficulty hiring consultants. Back then he was the one threatening to ruin the fun for the insiders backing Tom Reilly for governor. The outsiders have become the insiders.

Breaking up the party
These loyalties and histories lead to a lot of talk of political "camps" among consultants, even within party lines.

For instance, for some years there was a rivalry between the GOP's Joe Malone and Cellucci camps, dating from the heated race for the governor's office in 1998. That appears to have faded, with those from both sides now working together peacefully. But Malone's return to politics, as a candidate for Congress to replace retiring Bill Delahunt, has exposed an odd reversal. Those from his old "Malone camp" are not on board with him — most are now Romney loyalists who are bitter about Malone's endorsement of Rudy Giuliani over Mitt in the 2008 presidential campaign.

Another rift, among Democrats — which the Phoenix described previously in "Tea Party Progressives" (March 3) — has formed between the established Beacon Hill Democratic consultants and a set of progressives, like Dan Cohen of Connection Strategies. These liberals, many of whom came out of the grassroots-oriented campaigns of Patrick and Obama, disdain the more established consultants as being stuck in archaic practices.

That disdain is very much returned, especially after what many thought was an ugly campaign run by newcomer Peter Smulowitz against veteran pol Lida Harkins, in the State Senate primary to replace Brown. Smulowitz hit Harkins hard for her connections with indicted former Speaker DiMasi, which didn't sit well with establishment Democrats — particularly those with close relationships with DiMasi and other Beacon Hill leaders.

State auditor candidate Mike Lake is using Cohen's Campaign Strategies — though he's also paying insiders' insider Regan Communications — and several other Democrats running for office as outsiders are using Cohen or others from the progressive faction.

As for the Republicans, the heroes of the Brown campaign — Beth Myers, Eric Fehrnstrom, and others now doing business as the Shawmut Group — are too much in demand elsewhere to get very involved in Massachusetts races. They have done strategic consulting for treasurer candidate Karyn Polito, but not much else in-state.

Since the Healey veterans are all busy with Baker's campaign, that has left opportunities for some newly emerging consulting companies on the GOP side.

One is Swift Current Strategies, co-founded by Rob Willington, a former state Republican Party staffer who specializes in the political use of online media. The new national firm is consulting for Polito, auditor candidate Mary Connaughton, and several congressional candidates, including Perry.

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