GOP consultants in driver’s seat of region’s transportation sales tax campaign

By David Pendered

First the lead Democratic consultant dropped out, then the Democratic communications director resigned.

Now, the campaign team is still taking shape as the clock ticks toward referendum day in just over eight months for the 1 percent sales tax to pay for traffic-easing projects and transit.

One constant of the campaign has been the leadership of a small group of consultants who worked together at the Republican Governor’s Association.

The campaign’s co-manager, Paul Bennecke, joined the RGA as part of the reorganization orchestrated by then-Gov. Sonny Perdue that resulted in significant GOP gains.

Perdue was elected chair of the RGA in 2007, succeeding Mitt Romney. Under Romney, Republicans had lost 28 executive mansions and Perdue rode into the chairman’s job as a reform candidate. Perdue’s strategy was to rebuild the organization for the 2010 elections, when the GOP did pick up five seats and claimed a total of 29 governorships, according to realclearpolitics.com.

One of Perdue’s first moves was to hire Bennecke as the RGA’s deputy executive director and political director. Bennecke had served Perdue as his political director in Perdue’s long-shot campaign against incumbent Gov. Roy Barnes.

Perdue soundly defeated Barnes in 2002, and Bennecke was named executive director of the state Republican Party. Bennecke served under Alec Pointevent, who chaired the state party. Pointevent now chairs the Georgia Ports Authority and also chairs the 2012 GOP national convention in Tampa.

At the RGA, Bennecke served four years before stepping down in January to open his own consulting company in Marietta, Red Clay Strategies.

Bennecke now serves as one of two co-managers of the campaign team that’s advocating for the transportation sales tax referendum.

This is a snippet from Bennecke’s bio on the RGA website:

“Before joining RGA, Paul served as executive director of the Georgia Republican Party. Under his guidance, the Georgia GOP successfully re-elected its first Republican Governor in state history and elected Georgia’s first Republican Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of State. The Party also expanded its majority in the State House and lost no Republican at any level in the 2006 election.”

The other co-manager of the transportation sales tax campaign is Kevin Ross. Ross is an Atlanta-based lawyer and Democratic political strategist who replaced Democratic consultant Glenn Totten, of Virginia, who resigned in August.

The campaign’s communication director who resigned is Liz Flowers. She worked most recently for the Democratic caucuses in the state House and Senate. Flowers also served as campaign spokeswoman for Lisa Borders during Borders’ 2009 run for Atlanta mayor.

Flowers declined to comment on her decision to step down. Flowers said she is still under contract with the campaign and wants to respect her client’s contractual confidentiality.

With Flowers gone, the campaign message is being handled exclusively by a firm with deep roots in the Republican Govnernors Association.

The campaign’s website, Facebook page and Twitter updates are handled by a company named Influential. It is based in Washington.

The two founders, Justin Schuck and Erik Rapprich, state on their website that they have a combined 26 years experience in handling the branding, advertising and social media programs of political campaigns and Fortune 500 businesses.

Here’s a paragraph that describes their background at the RGA:

“Under their guidance, RGA’s online messages reached more than 1 million individual voters in 37 states with over 2.1 million total site views… Add those numbers to the more than 32,000 Facebook ‘likes’ and almost 5,000 Twitter followers and it is clear that their creative advocacy efforts were a significan factor in Republicans winning a majority of governorships nationally.”

The firm created a website for the transportation campaign and Tweeted about it on Nov. 2 to a following that now numbers 195:

“We’re proud to share with you Transform Metro Atlanta’s new website at http://t.co/eSHwJkYz. We’re… http://t.co/LwGE2cQo

The same day, the Atlanta campaign was cited in another Tweet:

“We’d like to give a Hump Day shout out to some of our client peeps: @ReevesVA @TransformATL @CentralDC @BahamasTruth @TargetInteractv #ff

And just last week, the Atlanta campaign was cited in its third and final Tweet to date:

“Today’s #FollowFriday goes out to @TransformATL, our latest project. Learn more at http://t.co/K0YykVp4 #ff

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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