Who Will Fred Hire? July 19, 2007Posted by fitsnews in 2008 Presidential Primaries.
THOMPSON TEAM LOOKING AT S.C. LANDSCAPE FOR POTENTIAL 2008 HIRES
FITSNews – July 19, 2007 – Although he hasn’t formally announced his candidacy yet, there’s no doubt that former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson is running for president. And why not? Most polls show him as either the frontrunner or co-frontrunner for the GOP nomination along with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. In fact, a recent South Carolina poll showed Thompson leading among all Republicans in this critical early primary state, despite the fact that the campaigns of John McCain and Mitt Romney have been aggressively planting seeds here for the better part of the last two years.
As Thompson inches closer to becoming an official candidate, FITSNews has learned that his team has been incredibly active in recent weeks looking for political talent to fill out a South Carolina staff. And not at all surprisingly, a number of South Carolina politicos have been incredibly active in their efforts to get the attention of Thompson aides like Dean Rice, who has made several trips to South Carolina scouting the local talent.
Given Thompson’s late start when compared to his major GOP rivals, the conventional wisdom was that the actor-politician would struggle finding the political veterans needed to compete in South Carolina – a state where operatives generally like to line up early in their respective camps and then go to the matresses against one another. With most of the state’s political players already committed to other candidates – or so the theory went, anyway – Thompson would be lucky to find the skilled political hands needed to staff the key positions of his South Carolina operation.
Several factors, however, have contributed to shatter that conventional wisdom. The first and most obvious is the recent implosion of the McCain campaign. Although the Arizona Senator turned in a decent fundraising effort here (and still places in second or third place in most South Carolina polls), two huge campaign layoffs have returned several former Straight Talk operatives to the free agent pool.
Also, Rudy Giuliani seems to have chosen by and large not to make a huge investment in South Carolina staff, essentially limiting his effort to Spartanburg PR executive Karen Floyd and former Sanford Deputy Jason Miller.
Additionally, his most recent personnel announcement consisted mostly of unknown, out-of-staters.
McCain’s layoffs and Giuliani’s decision not to aggressively scoop up dozens of native operatives is certainly part of the reason Thompson will find the local ground more fertile than expected, but the real reason seems to be that not as many Palmetto politicos staked themselves out early … certainly not as many as people initially assumed.
Sure, the endorsement parade of local elected officials has been hot and heavy (including multiple endorsements of McCain and Romney), but while many politicians hopped on board early, many of the more talented Republican politicos have adopted a “wait and see” approach to the GOP primary fight.
As far as we can tell, here are the top S.C.-based advisors already committed to a 2008 campaign:
Giuliani – Karen Floyd, Jason Miller, Braden Bunch
McCain – Richard Quinn, Rick Quinn, Jimmy Merrill, Bob McAlister (unpaid), Trey Walker, BJ Boling
Romney – Warren Tompkins, Terry Sullivan, Wesley Donehue, George Ramsey, Becky Fleming, Drew McKissick, Dee Benedict, Will Holly, Rob Yerger, McNeil Epps, Katie Baham, Franklin Buchanon
Huckabee – Mike Campbell, Adam Piper
Brownback – Hal Stevenson
Paul – Chris Lawton, Chris Golden
Obviously, the biggest of the uncommitted Palmetto State consultants is Rod Shealy, who after being left for dead in 2002 following a miserable election cycle has rebounded with big wins in 2006 and 2007. Shealy’s name has been bandied about as a possible advisor to both Giuliani and Thompson, but nothing official has come of his interactions with either campaign.
Other pure political consultants who are uncommitted (or available after the McCain layoffs) include former Sanford Communications Director Chris Drummond (previously McCain), Starboard Communications’ owner Walter Whetsell, Bonnie Blue PR owner Robert Cahaly (formerly with Duncan Hunter), Upstate-based political observer Chip Felkel, Charleston-based consultant Mark Lisella, Myrtle Beach-based consultant Tom Herron, SC Hotline owner Jeffrey Sewell, former David Beasley advisors Randy Page and Tony Denny and current House GOP Caucus communications director Jason Zacher.
Available staffers include former Straight Talk Express employees Chris Allen, Katherine Haltiwanger and Bryan Haskins, as well as Commerce spokeswoman and former State GOP mouthpiece Kara Borie, who was one of the primary grassroots architects of Gov. Mark Sanford’s insurgent win in the 2002 campaign.
Of those names, FITSNews has learned that the Thompson team has spoken directly with Whetsell and Felkel, although no deals have been inked.
Of those two consultants, Whetsell has more extensive campaign experience in recent years and a broader geographic reach, having run races in the Upstate, Midlands and Lowcountry in recent election cycles. Felkel’s influence is largely confined to the Upstate, and his recent involvement in major statewide races has been mostly limited to providing commentary.
There’s also evidence that Thompson’s advisors may also be looking outside of the typical “consultant loop” for South Carolina advice, as we keep hearing the names of high-profile lobbyists Larry Marchant and Fred Allen tossed out as possible Thompson targets.
Allen, a top fundraiser for Gov. Mark Sanford’s first campaign, says he’s with Giuliani.
“I’ve contributed to Mr. Giuliani and that’s who I’m supporting,” Allen told FITSNews.
Marchant, part of the immensely-effective political machine of former Gov. Carroll Campbell, couldn’t be reached for comment regarding his 2008 prospects, although many are speculating that he is on the Thompson shortlist given his extensive political experience, formidable fundraising contacts and successful lobbying practice.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if the Thompson people have given (Marchant) a call,” said Allen.
Incidentally, Marchant’s staff includes J.J. Darby, a lobbyist with extensive S.C. campaign experience and extended stints with both the State Republican Party and Gov. Mark Sanford’s office.
Stay tuned to FITSNews as operative signing season heats up …