Despite their partisan differences, count Democratic consultant Garry South, the party’s Duke of Darkness, as one of Republican strategist Mike Murphy’s fans: “He’s a great guy – one of the funniest and smartest people I know in politics. He brings a centrist perspective that befits the political climate in California pretty well.”
But South – who was S.F. Mayor Gavin Newsom’s consultant in the governor’s race until the Prince dropped out last month – also warned that by bringing Murphy into her campaign, Meg Whitman runs the risk that afflicts most wealthy candidates in California (viz: Simon, Bill and Checchi, Al).
“Having more consultants doesn’t necessarily mean a better campaign,” he added. “They put together these big campaigns but they don’t know who to listen to and there’s sometimes warring camps that take hold inside and give the candidates conflicting advice.”
As word spread, in the wake of our Tuesday post, that Whitman had brought Murphy into her campaign, insiders saw both opportunities and risks in the move, balancing the high-profile consultant’s talent for messaging and strategy against his take-no-prisoners style, which can be aimed both at his candidate’s rival – as well as his own rivals within the campaign.
One Republican strategist who has worked with Murphy described his greatest value to Whitman this way: “He’s somebody with actual political experience and the stature to push back on the candidate and her non-political advisers when it’s necessary.”
While it appears that Whitman crony Henry Gomez, her former eBay colleague and closest adviser, was the one who reached out to Murphy, his presence in the campaign will also assure that “When Henry has an idea that’s dumb, there’s someone who can call him on it,” the source said.
Like many business executives, Whitman has a low regard for political professionals, several sources said; for this reason, she needs a strategist who is not intimidated by her, “someone who can get into her face and say ‘This is what we have to do,’” as one operative put it.
Murphy – who was no doubt recommended to Whitman by those around her old pal and mentor Mitt Romney — is such a figure. Said another former Murphy colleague: “He’s the original Big Foot. He’s charming and good company. But he’ll stomp on everybody else. He’ll want to dominate in every respect. He’s a one-man wrecking crew.”
Murphy has a reputation for being disorganized, disheveled and sometimes difficult to get engaged. “Organization is not his forte,” said a former GOP colleague.
But those who know him suggest that Murphy – who lives now in the Hollywood Hills, hasn’t run a campaign in years and works in the entertainment industry – has no intention of taking over the campaign.
“It’s good to have as many smart people around the table as possible,” said former Schwartzmuscle spokesman Rob Stutzman and Murphy business partner in Navigators LLC, who’s now part of eMeg’s brigade of consultants.
Murphy is said to have been genuinely impressed with Whitman’s leadership skills and – no doubt – her ability to pay whatever fee he’ll be charging for his strategic and message advice. “Fortunately, this is the type of campaign that has the luxury to keep adding talent,” said one operative.
Despite speculation that his presence will diminish the role of the other consultants now feeding at the Whitman campaign trough, sources say most will welcome a figure of stature who can help focus a campaign that can’t seem to decide from day to day whether to attack Republicans Steve Poizner and Tom Campbell or go straight after Attorney General Jerry Brown, the presumptive Democratic nominee.
Calbuzz expectation: Once Murphy gets engaged, Whitman is likely to ignore Poizner and Campbell and use his acid touch to go straight after Crusty the General – unless Poizner finally decides to crack open his pocketbook and put up some serious TV and radio designed to take out eMeg before she runs away with the show.
BTW — Here’s some of the official spin on Murphy’s hire, from eMeg Central:
Murphy will work closely with the campaign’s two other senior advisors, Henry Gomez and Jeff Randle. Murphy will also work closely with Jillian Hasner, Whitman’s campaign manager. Hasner, Gomez, Murphy and Randle make up the senior leadership of the campaign.
“Our goal is to win in June and November, so we can start putting California back on track,” said Whitman. “Mike is a trusted friend and someone who brings enormous experience to our campaign. There is no one better at helping Californians understand your message, values and commitment.”
Perhaps. But before he was for eMeg, Murphy was dancing cheek-to-cheek with Poizner. In fact, he laid out a pretty serious approach for the Commish in this memo, (download it as a pdf) passed along to us from Poizner’s campaign.
Asked about the memo by the Sacramento Bee, Murphy said:
“It’s true that around July (of last year) I gave Steve Poizner some free advice about how to set up a campaign. Steve offered me a consulting position on the campaign, and I declined it. I’m fond of all Republicans, but I’ve decided I believe Meg Whitman is the strongest Republican candidate and the candidate the party should nominate in the primary. I look forward to a united Republican party behind Meg Whitman after the primary election.”