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With win behind them, Brown strategists are in demand

Other candidates hope senator-elect’s advisers will share their golden touch

By Casey Ross
Globe Staff / January 23, 2010

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They were the invisible hands behind Republican Scott Brown’s stunning victory, and now are in almost as much demand from Republicans across the country as the new senator from Massachusetts.

A congressional candidate in Hawaii wants to hire one of Brown’s fund-raisers, while a candidate in Ohio is considering retaining Brown’s pollster. Strategists Eric Fehrnstrom, Peter Flaherty, and Beth Myers are working for the GOP gubernatorial candidate in New York, and for the Republican vying to unseat Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy, the late Edward M. Kennedy’s son.

“Scott Brown has certainly put a lot of wind in the sails of my campaign,’’ said Charles Djou of Hawaii, whose campaign said it is considering hiring Brown’s chief of Internet fund-raising, Patrick Ruffini.

Like Brown, Djou said, “I’m trying to emphasize the needs of the average person and take a common- sense approach. We don’t need another insider.’’

In the small world of political consulting, scoring an upset victory in a closely watched race is akin to striking oil. Lots of work and money are bound to follow.

Democratic media strategist Dan Payne recalled that his career took off after helping a client win a special election for Gerald Ford’s former congressional seat in a Republican stronghold in Michigan in 1974, a race that showcased building antipathy toward President Nixon, who would resign months later.

“You end up getting a ton of phone calls and new business for your firm, without having to push it much,’’ said Payne.

Fehrnstrom and Flaherty were at Brown’s elbow as the Senator-elect triumphantly visited Washington, D.C., on Thursday. The pair declined to name other potential clients who have contacted their firm, the Shawmut Group, following Tuesday’s victory, but they said their inboxes are full.

“We’ve received a lot of communications over the last couple of days, not limited to the Northeast,’’ Flaherty said.

Shawmut Group is already working for John Loughlin, Kennedy’s opponent in Rhode Island; Rick Lazio, who is running against New York’s Democratic governor, David Paterson; and George Demos, who is challenging Democrat Tim Bishop for a congressional seat on New York’s Long Island. In its work for the Brown campaign, the firm was paid $5,000 per week, according to financial filings from October.

The firm’s partners formed the company in 2008 after serving as longtime advisers to former governor and presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Working for him on another presidential run would be a natural stepping stone for the Shawmut Group, though Romney has not announced his intentions. Romney remains visible through his Free and Strong America Political Action Committee and on election night had a prominent role, introducing Brown at the victory celebration at the Park Plaza.

In 1991, a contest similar to Brown’s launched the career of famed Democratic consultant James Carville, who engineered a stunning victory for Harris Wofford, who had been down 40 points in polls to former US Attorney General Richard Thornburgh.

Carville then helped lead Bill Clinton’s successful presidential campaign in 1992 and has since become a regular presence on television talk shows, authored several books, acted in movies, and even opened a restaurant.

While such celebrity status for consultants is rare, Brown’s strategists will probably see their handiwork copied in races across the country.

“We’re already seeing candidates adopt the model of Scott Brown’s campaign and apply it to their own races,’’ said Paul Lindsay, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. In his campaign, Brown ran as an antiestablishment everyman, portraying Democrats as out of touch with voters’ concerns about health care and the economy.

Others Brown advisers include campaign manager Beth Lindstrom, finance director Priscilla Ruzzo, pollster Neil Newhouse, and Robert Willington, who helped devise the campaign’s Internet outreach and fund-raising.

Willington went to Bermuda for vacation after Tuesday’s election victory, but said he made the mistake of taking his BlackBerry with him. Willington told the Globe he was getting a flurry of “what’s next’’ e-mails from political colleagues and potential clients, and said he plans to run workshops across the country on rebuilding the Republican Party when he returns.

“There are a lot of new ideas we’ll be launching,’’ Willington said. “There’s plenty of enthusiasm right now. In the last month of our campaign, we raised $12 million in online contributions alone.’’

Newhouse has already penned an item on his company’s website advertising his involvement in Brown’s campaign that lists the “12 keys to victory.’’ Number two: The pickup truck was crucial, he said. Newhouse is also a finalist to perform the same role in the campaign of Steve Stivers, a Republican running for the congressional seat based around Columbus, Ohio.

Instead of a pickup truck, Stivers said he drives a sport utility vehicle - “it’s a hybrid,’’ he quipped - but otherwise said his race mirrors that of Brown.

“The voter anger is the same,’’ said Stivers “And if you look at my resume, it’s very similar to Scott Brown’s. I’m a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard, and so is he. He’s a state senator, and I was a state senator. He appealed to people in an unconventional way, and that’s exactly what I’m trying to do.’’

Casey Ross can be reached at cross@globe.com.