Political Operatives: Campaigns Tap Veteran Staffers For Governor's Race Rematch [The Hartford Courant :: ]
(Hartford Courant (CT) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 30--The fight for the Connecticut governorship between Republican Tom Foley and incumbent Democrat Dannel P. Malloy has generated significant national attention and, behind the curtain, attracted seasoned political operatives to both campaigns.
With early rounds of negative advertising already on the airwaves, these staffers are busy behind the scenes, shaping their candidate's message, gearing up for debates and looking ahead to November turnout strategy.
Malloy's staff has been ramping up for months in anticipation of a rematch with Foley, whom he barely beat four years ago. The slightly smaller Foley team is heavy with Connecticut political veterans and former staffers of one or both of Linda McMahon's U.S. Senate runs.
Malloy has assembled a staff of operatives with extensive and diverse resumes. As of the campaign's July 10 filing with the State Elections Enforcement Commission, eight of the 24 staffers listed had out-of-state addresses.
Mark Bergman, a top-level Malloy adviser, is not new to the state. He has experience over the past 10 years in Connecticut and across the country, working in both winning and losing races. He worked on the winning campaigns of Democrat Maggie Hassan for governor of New Hampshire in 2012, Democrat Brad Schneider for Congress in Illinois and U.S. Rep. John F. Tierney for re-election in Massachusetts. Bergman also was the press spokesman in losing Democratic races for governor in Pennsylvania and U.S. Senate in New Hampshire.
Bergman is an alumnus and former senior strategist for Mission Control, the progressive direct mail firm based in Mansfield that in the last decade has racked up a record of helping Democrats win elections. He also served as the campaign manager for Democrat Susan Bysiewicz, who lost in the August 2012 U.S. Senate primary to Christopher Murphy.
Another important voice in the Malloy campaign is Roy Occhiogrosso, a Malloy confidante who played a major role in the 2010 run and then spent two years as a top gubernatorial aide and Malloy's chief political strategist. This time around, the campaign is retaining Occhiogrosso and the New York-based consulting firm Global Strategy Group, where he is a managing director.
Before winning with Malloy in both the primary and the general election in 2010, Occhiogrosso was involved in numerous losing campaigns over a 15-year period. Those included unsuccessful races by Democrat Bill Curry for governor in 1994 and 2002, Westport First Selectman Diane Farrell for Congress against incumbent Republican Chris Shays, and U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman in his loss to Greenwich upstart Ned Lamont in the August 2006 Senate primary.
Jonathan Blair, Malloy's campaign manager, has less in-state experience than his colleagues. But Blair is riding a winning streak after guiding the successful campaigns of U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly in Illinois last year and U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich in 2012. In Illinois, Blair worked with Mission Control -- Bergman's former employer and now a vendor for the Malloy campaign -- and gained respect for his analytics-driven approach, which resulted in Kelly prevailing over a deep field to win the seat vacated by Jesse Jackson Jr.
Bergman, who serves as the spokesman for the Malloy campaign, said the Malloy brass knows the race is close and has made recruiting top-level political talent a priority.
"Campaigns have to bring in the best talent, not only in Connecticut but across the country, to put together a winning campaign, to put together a winning message, and to put together a winning organization," Bergman said. "This campaign has tremendous experience in Connecticut elections."
One staffer with some state experience is Michael Mandell, a veteran of Malloy's 2010 campaign who went on to work as a legislative aide to the governor. Mandell accompanied Malloy on his 2012 trip to China, and when the incumbent Democrat hit the campaign trail earlier this month, Mandell was with him.
"Some people have a long-term relationship with the governor, some people don't," Bergman said. "It's [about] bringing the talent that you have and making sure it works together. That's our charge. That's the governor's charge. And we've done that."
Democrats in Connecticut enjoy a large advantage in registered voters and dominate both chambers of the state legislature. Foley has had to recruit from a smaller pool of Connecticut Republican operatives to build his campaign.
He has turned to some of the state's political veterans.
Chris Cooper, Foley's communications director and a close adviser to the candidate, is a familiar face around the Capitol and at numerous state agencies. In 2010, Cooper worked on the losing gubernatorial campaign of Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele, Foley's primary opponent. Before that, Cooper was a spokesman for Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell and her predecessor, Gov. John G. Rowland. Earlier Cooper worked for two Democratic governors, William A. O'Neill and Ella T. Grasso.
It is fair, Cooper said with a laugh, to call him a veteran of state politics.
Another veteran, of Foley campaigns at least, is Justin Clark, the West Hartford attorney who ran Foley's operation in 2010 and is reprising his role this time around. Clark brings experience with both of McMahon's losing U.S. Senate bids, and at least a third of his staff on the Foley campaign has some McMahon experience.
Louisa M. Guerra, a scheduler for the Foley campaign, ran the New Haven office of McMahon's 2012 losing bid before packing up for Virginia, where she managed Democrat Tom Rust's successful re-election bid for the state assembly. There, Guerra worked with Sean Cleary, another McMahon alumnus who is now back in Connecticut as Foley's political director. Lauren Casper, Foley's finance director, is another McMahon veteran.
Cooper said the operation has sought out Connecticut talent to assemble a team that is familiar with the state.
"Because Connecticut people know the state better and because we want to support the Connecticut economy, we use as much home state talent as we can," he said.
As of the Foley campaign's Aug. 5 SEEC filing, only one staffer, Deputy Communications Director Mark McNulty, listed an out-of-state address. McNulty has coast-to-coast experience in politics, including working for the presidential campaigns of Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, as well as for Perry's Texas office and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
To some extent, the available cache of state Republican staffers was divided in Foley's tighter-than-expected primary battle with Senate Minority Leader John McKinney. Among other hires, McKinney worked closely with former McMahon spokesperson and longtime Republican strategist Jodi Latina. Despite some speculation by state Republicans that Foley might fold some of McKinney's staffers into his operation, SEEC filings indicate that no such hires have yet been made.
Out-Of-State Spending To Spread The Message
While candidates depend on their staffers, high-stakes campaigns are also about products: television advertising, direct mail, lawn signs, anything that can help spread a message. To this end, Foley and Malloy, who both are using the state's public financing system, also both have spent significant sums of money out of state.
Foley's biggest expenditures this summer have been for advertising services coordinated by Pinpoint Media, a Virginia company. In early August, the Foley campaign sent Pinpoint a check for nearly $220,000. The Foley outfit also paid Chatham Light Media, a Vermont company, $16,500 for "media and production" earlier this month.
Malloy also has used out-of-state vendors. He has paid thousands of dollars for the services of Global Strategy Group, Occhiogrosso's firm. Malloy's most recent filing, for the pay period spanning the month of June, details a $41,000 payment to Global Strategy.
In the 2010 race for governor, Global Strategy received more than $550,000 in total billings.
So far, the campaigns are using Connecticut companies for less expensive, less strategic services.
In the past month, the Foley campaign has used in-state vendors to print T-shirts ($3,600 to Barker Advertising in Cheshire) and bumper stickers ($622.15 to Crickett Press in West Hartford), and for a photo shoot ($1,500 to MAD Studio in Stamford.)
Foley's bigger ticket expenses, though, have gone out of state to vendors like Pinpoint and Chatham, as well as Fulcrum Campaign Strategies in New York (two recent payments totaling more than $30,000), and JDA Frontline in South Carolina (nearly $7,000 in recent payments).
Malloy's campaign has retained Mansfield-based direct mailer Mission Control, Bergman's former employer, and also is working with Connecticut-based PowerThru, an online strategy consultant.
But the Malloy campaign's largest expenses, as documented in the July 10 report, have been for Global Strategy Group and AKPD Message and Media, an Illinois company. Recent AKPD clients include Democratic Mayors Martin J. Walsh in Boston and Bill de Blasio in New York.
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