It’s becoming a theme: An underdog candidate running a bare-bones operation vanquishing well-funded opponents who employ prominent professional consultants.
On Tuesday night, Darryl Glenn, the shock winner of the GOP Senate nomination in Colorado, wrote the latest chapter in a drama that has raised a pressing question. How will this sort of consultant-free success impact the campaign industry?
A look at Glenn’s FEC report certainly won’t inspire any other candidates to pay consultants a hefty retainer. Its single biggest expenditure, recorded in his pre-primary report that tallied $106,510 in spending, is $28,084 paid to Colorado Springs-based WickedThink Marketing for a radio ad. The second biggest expenditure ($15,000), is also for a radio spot. The third biggest expense is some $5,000 for credit card processing.
Earlier this month, Glenn told Roll Call that his “staff” consisted of about 10 volunteers who all “signed agreements with the campaign that recognizes that they are volunteers who won’t be financially compensated unless he reaches the general election.”
Now, in the primary Glenn bested former CSU athletic director Jack Graham, who had Dick Wadhams, a former chairman of the state GOP, as his campaign manager and used well-known Colorado media consultant Walk Klein for his advertising. Graham had a budget around $2 million, including some $1.5 million of his own money.
Third-place finisher Robert Blaha, who put $1 million of his own money into his campaign, used Fred Davis’ Strategic Perception for his media and Smart Media Group for his placement. Blaha also had Jordan Gehrke as his consultant and Katey Price, a well-known Colorado operative, as his manager – at least until May when she said she resigned "due to differences with the candidate."
The funding deficit and expertise of the consulting teams he faced makes Glenn’s victory even more of an upset. But it’s a mistake to believe that Glenn had no campaign organization in place, Owen Loftus, who recently launched a self-named PR firm in Denver, told C&E.
“I think he did have an [all-volunteer] organization and that’s why he was able to knock everybody at the state assembly [in April],” Loftus said. “In order to win there, you have to make the phone calls and go and make your pitches around the state and have the basic pieces necessary. In 2010, that’s how Ken Buck won [the GOP Senate nomination]. The old-fashioned way of campaigning is important at this stage of an election.”
Glenn, an African-American El Paso County commissioner who rallied against the Black Lives Matter movement, also received backing from Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz and the Senate Conservatives Fund. That provided him a big boost, according to Loftus, who worked for Buck in 2010.
While Glenn proved that he didn’t need consultants to get through the primary, like Trump he’ll have to make adjustments in order to defeat Sen. Michael Bennet (D), Loftus said.
“When you go into a general election, you’re not going to be able to call five million Coloradans,” he said. “You’re going to need those consultants and you’re going to need to put advertisements on television, and a staff who can reach out to the press and put together a ground game.”
Given the current political environment, consultants acknowledge we’re likely to see more candidates like Glenn in the short term. But as with Trump, the majority of those within the political industry remain confident the slog of a general election (whether it be a presidential contest or a U.S. Senate race) will ultimately prove that campaigns really do matter.