Chazz Clevinger faced a dilemma over 2016. The consulting firm he worked for, 720 Strategies, wanted him to shift away from campaign work and focus on public affairs business development and public affairs consulting.
“That led me to really think about where I wanted my future to lie,” he said. Clevinger had caught the campaign bug in 2004 and worked on a series of state legislative races up and down the eastern seaboard. He wanted to keep working campaigns.
Late last year, he left his VP position at 720 and hung his own shingle as a general consultant.
C&E: Tell us more about why you launched your own firm.
Clevinger: I was at 720 Strategies, where I was the vice president of business development and campaigns services, but they mainly did public affairs business. It was really hard to do both of those things – to grow an existing public affairs business and then try to grow the political side of the firm. I found myself like Stretch Armstrong: torn in two different directions.
Then my grandfather, who had been a very successful businessman in rural Kentucky, was kind enough to leave me some money when he passed away [in 2015]. When that money came through, I felt like I had a decision to make. And I made the decision to go back out on my own and relaunch Coastal Political Strategies.
C&E: Are you worried about the viability of a general consultancy in today’s market?
Clevinger: I’m not trying to launch a tech firm. I’m not NationBuilder or Polis, or Whistle Stop Digital. I’m not trying to make this into something that’s necessarily a full-time career for me permanently. I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of money or financial stability in being a general consultant, but it’s what I love and what I’m good at.
Moving beyond 2016, I may branch out into other fields by doing more public affairs work, or lobbying. I’m accepted into the University of Michigan next year for law school so I may go into election law. I have a couple other ideas for how I would expand into other aspects of the political realm.
C&E: What’s your target market for Coastal?
Clevinger: I made a name for myself down in North Carolina doing state legislative races — tough ones where there’s not a lot of money and you have to make that money stretch. But I don’t want to limit myself to North Carolina. I’m going to remain here in D.C. and provide my services as a general consultant to state legislative races all up and down the East Coast.
C&E: Because of that focus, will you need to take on a large number of clients?
Clevinger: It’s going to be based on volume. I have very good relationships with a lot of state [GOP] legislative caucuses that manage the funds that are distributed to the most competitive [state] House and Senate races. I’m going to be relying on those relationships to help me locate candidates, and then to take me seriously when I bring them someone who’s doing well. I’ll say, ‘This candidate has raised X amount of money; they’ve knocked on X amount of doors. I’d like for you to consider giving them several hundred thousand dollars for this final push for mail and media.’
Everybody’s got to find a place in the market that works well for them. I know the landscape in North Carolina and Virginia. There are a lot of national folks and a lot of state-based folks that almost have a monopoly on the big races for U.S. Senate or governor or Congress. I’m just trying to focus on the work that I do well and where I can go into a situation and say, ‘I’ve been up against 18-year incumbent Democrats in Greenville, N.C., and run races for guys who only had $50,000 in the bank and were down by 26 points and still helped them win in tight situations.’
I can point to a lot of semi-miraculous or improbable victories that I’ve had at the state-legislative level to help me get more business. I can’t say I’ve run three presidentials or got eight governors elected, but I can point to a lot of legislative victories.
C&E: Where did the name for Coastal Political come from?
Clevinger: I’m a coastal kid from Wilmington, N.C. Back in 2004, the local attorney and state senator from my hometown, Patrick Ballantine, was running against Mike Easley for governor of North Carolina. And his law partner, Woody White, was running for the state Senate. Richard Burr was running for the U.S. Senate. Bush-Cheney were running for reelection. It was a good time to be a Republican in Eastern North Carolina. That was when I got involved in politics.