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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Top Romney Consultant Pushes Two Different Messages

Eric Fehrnstrom speaks to the media on behalf of the Mitt Romney campaign following a Republican presidential debate in October 2011. (AP/Isaac Brekken)

Eric Fehrnstrom is one of the men behind the campaigns of both Mitt Romney and Republican Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, and he’s crafting very different messages for each of them. While ads for Romney question the president’s record, Brown is appealing to Democrats and independents by touting his ties to the president. How unusual is this for a political consultant? Veteran Republican media strategist Fred Davis, told Bloomberg news that he felt Fehrnstrom’s situation was “exotic.”

“What does cross into being unusual to the point of being challenging for Eric, is the fact that he, because of election realities, has to create these two completely different messages: one that’s very anti-Obama, and one that’s almost a little bit embracing of the President,” Bloomberg News reporter Julie Bykowicz told Here & Now’s Robin Young.

The Political Etch A Sketch

Advisers Peter Flaherty, left, Eric Fehrnstrom center, and campaign manager Matt Rhoades stand on stage as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney checks the podium at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., in August 2012. (AP/Charles Dharapak)

According to Bykowicz, political consultants face the challenge of  changing a candidate’s message to strike the right balance during different moments in the campaign.

Fehrnstrom  revealed that strategy in March with his infamous Etch A Sketch comment. When CNN asked him how Romney could pivot from the primaries to the general election, Fehrnstrom said, “You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.”

That comment sparked a huge backlash.

But Bykowicz said, “You could extrapolate from that comment that he made that this is a role he’s used to being in these days — the need to re-position a candidate to best speak to voters.”

Needing A Win

Fehrnstrom helped Brown win a special election against the Democratic candidate in 2010, but since then has backed several high profile candidates who lost.

“He really needs a win, or really preferably two wins, to keep himself at the top of the list for candidates to call when they need a high-profile consultant,” Bykowicz said.

Aggressive Loyalty

Fehrnstrom is a former reporter at the Boston Herald, but sometimes has an adversarial relationship with reporters. He calls reporters if he’s angry with their coverage or questions, and there has been a time or two when he has “gotten in a reporter’s face,” according to Bykowicz. But that plays into his appeal as a consultant.

“It’s that loyalty factor,” said Bykowicz. “When he’s on your team you can expect him to be aggressively working on your behalf, to really feel like he’s out there supporting you and doing his best for you.”

Guest

  • Julie Bykowicz, political reporter at Bloomberg News. She tweets at @bykowicz.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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