Allan Hoffenblum trained a generation of California consultants and helped guide campaigns on both sides of the aisle with his Target Book.
Hoffenblum, who passed away recently at the age of 75, held a Golden State role that some described as Charlie Cook or Stuart Rothenberg crossed with Karl Rove.
After running campaigns for the state GOP, he launched the California Target Book, where he compiled election data — including hard-to-find spending by state IEs — and then rated districts on whether they were a winnable, competitive or safe seat.
“You couldn’t navigate the world of California politics, especially in the age of term limits, without Allan,” Tony Quinn, Hoffenblum’s longtime co-editor, said recently.
Hoffenblum made one attempt at being a candidate himself, running for state Assembly in 1976, friends said. The failure of that campaign taught him he was better suited to a role behind the curtain. But he grew the role of advisor and consultant to include teaching generations of operatives climbing the party’s ranks.
In fact, Hoffenblum instilled a faith in data into a generation GOP operatives, many of whom he trained at seminars for managers throughout the 1970s and 80s. That’s where he met Richard Temple, who went on to serve as the state GOP caucus’ chief of staff.
“He was the originator in California of campaign management training sessions where he taught in a way that was much more realistic than anything I’ve seen since,” recalled Temple. “He put people like me under an enormous amount of stress. It was more than just, ‘Here’s how to make a bumper sticker.’”
Hoffenblum had served as an intelligence office in the Air Force and came out of the Vietnam War with a Bronze Star. His analytical background was suited to campaigns. In the 1970s, he started doing direct mail targeting and campaign management. Temple recalls he won in districts where Republicans were only 20 percent of the vote — in the post-Watergate era when the party was losing even safe seats.
“He was able to figure out the path to victory and had the discipline to stay on that path despite of everybody’s opinion to do something otherwise,” Temple said. “The way he approached campaigns was, ‘Let’s have a real strategy.’ And to do that you need to truly understand the districts. That was the kind of thought he put into it that most other campaigns weren’t doing at the time.”
Hoffenblum’s confidence in his own ability meant he didn’t suffer fools and often clashed with candidates who questioned his tactics. “When he was doing candidate campaigns, he enjoyed it thoroughly, but he saw himself as a professional and an expert. It was, ‘let’s do this.’ And he was stubborn about it,” said Temple. “That takes a lot of energy and effort, and as he got older, he didn’t want to put up with the BS.
“There’s not a whole lot of warm and fuzzies about him, but I respected his brilliance,” added Temple. “In my political lifetime, I went from a kid in awe of him, to a person supposedly directing him to a peer, to a person who was a friend.”
Ray McNally, Temple’s business partner, laughed when he recalled how Hoffenblum would get up a head of steam. “He managed to piss off probably every Republican leader at the time because he saw his job as to elect his candidate — and he got them elected,” said McNally. “He drilled into my head the need to build a contrast campaign. It’s all about a contrast.”
Hoffenblum championed a formula for winning campaigns. “First you give voters a reason not to vote for a candidate. Then you make sure you give them a place to land and make sure they understand the challenger is worth their vote,” McNally said. “You would layer in positive information about your candidate while attacking.”
Martin Wilson, now the executive vice president in charge of public affairs at the California Chamber of Commerce, said Hoffenblum was known for his chutzpah, even long after he moved into an analyst role. Wilson was an aide to Arnold Schwarzenegger when he accompanied the then-governor to a dinner in Sacramento with a group of consultants in 2006.
As the evening progressed and the wine flowed, Hoffenblum, who had flown up from Los Angeles, suddenly looked at his watch and declared he had to leave. Schwarzenegger asked why and Hoffenblum explained he had to do a two-minute hit for a local TV station. With time to fill, he asked Schwarzenegger if he’d come on.
“Arnold didn’t care,” said Wilson. “He just got in the elevator and went downstairs and did a stand-up interview with Hoffenblum. That showed his hutzpah. He wasn’t afraid to ask the most powerful man in California to do an interview on a second-tier TV station.”