The retirement of California Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) and the anticipated departure of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) and the term-limited Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has created what some consultants are calling the “full-employment act” for their industry.
Boxer’s race will be the first competitive statewide contest since the Supreme Court cases Citizens United and McCutcheon changed the campaign finance landscape. It’s also the first truly competitive statewide race to be played out in California’s top-two primary system.
That means even if Republicans don’t field a strong candidate for the 2016 Senate race — which some consultants believe is likely to be the case — there will still be a competitive intra-party race to succeed Boxer. Moreover, the ripple effect of office holders vying for the open seats will ensure a statewide shakeup that hasn’t been seen in a generation.
“The Senate race opportunity in 2016 combined with the potential opening for the Feinstein seat in ’18 and the governor’s race in ’18 mean that if you’re a political candidate in California seeking statewide office, this is your gold rush,” says Douglas Herman, an L.A. based mail consultant.
State Attorney General Kamala Harris (D), the early frontrunner to succeed Boxer, has already begun forming her campaign team and others will need to lockdown consultants as they enter the fray, according to Herman, who worked for both President Obama’s White House campaigns.
“As candidates finalize their plans and get into these races you’re going to see a lot of consultants be employed in the full employment act that is the gold rush for statewide candidates in ’16 and ’18,” says Herman, who runs the Los Angeles office of The Strategy Group, Inc.
Still, the gold rush might not be bi-partisan or evenly spread across the industry. While mail vendors, media and digital consultants from outside California can showcase their wares to Golden State candidates, non-local general consultants will have a harder time selling their expertise. That’s because the top contenders will want to hire consultants who intimately know the state’s famously varied terrain.
Sure, an unscrupulous general consultant could sign on to a guaranteed-to-lose effort, but that does little to enhance his or her reputation. It also takes their focus away from other clients who might have better odds of winning.
While national Democratic firms could start generating new business in California with the upcoming contests, consultants say Republicans have a harder time looking beyond the state line for campaign help.
“California has always been insular. It is a difficult state for outside consultants to consistently find quality work,” says one outside GOP consultant who has extensive experience working in California. “Understanding how to win tough campaigns has noting to do with a state line – but sometimes the malaise of defeat can make those borders feel like an excuse and limit the way a candidate assesses his or her needs.”