The Republicans running to replace retiring Rep. Joe Barton have overhauled campaign staff ahead of next month's runoff – with a top consultant bouncing from one candidate to the other.
Former U.S. Navy officer Jake Ellzey, who is also seeking the GOP nomination, named a new lead consultant for his campaign operation, after his old one went to work for former Tarrant County Tax Assessor Ron Wright.
Wright, who has the endorsement of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, is working with the firm that managed Cruz’s presidential campaign, Axiom Strategies, led by GOP mega-strategist Jeff Roe.
Axiom boasts the largest Republican client roster in the country, including 74 Congressional candidates, according to a report from Campaign & Elections.
It worked on the losing side of a massive upset in South Texas earlier this year, where Republican Kathleen Wall spent about $6 million on the race — far more than her opponents — and failed to make the runoff.
Axiom vice president Matt Langston, who is based in Austin, is overseeing Wright's race. Micah Cavanaugh, another Austin-based GOP consultant who does not work for Axiom, serves as Wright's campaign manager.
Wright and Ellzey will face off May 22 in a runoff. The winner will face one of two Democrats, Ruby Faye Woolridge or Jana Lynne Sanchez, who are also in a runoff..
Republicans are counting on holding the seat in a district President Donald Trump carried by 12 percentage points in 2016. National Democrats haven’t named it a target for their efforts to retake the House.
But the turmoil adds drama to a race where each candidate raised less money than Sanchez.
Brian Mayes, formerly the general consultant on Ellzey’s campaign, told the Star-Telegram Tuesday that he had parted ways with Ellzey shortly after the primary, and that he wasn’t working for any other Congressional candidates. He also talked up the Wright campaign’s voter outreach program and popularity in the district.
After a source told the Star-Telegram Wednesday Mayes was now working for Wright, Mayes then clarified that he is now providing “general guidance” to the Wright campaign on a pro-bono basis. He said he didn’t want to embarrass the Ellzey campaign by sharing that news the previous day.
"While we enjoyed working with Jake Ellzey, we felt he was taking his campaign in a questionable direction that we could not support. To protect the integrity of our firm we mutually agreed to part ways with his campaign team," Mayes said in a statement.
Cavanaugh, Wright's campaign manager, said Wednesday that he was not aware Mayes was helping Wright.
Eric Bearse, Ellzey communications director, said the campaign would not discuss staffing matters. Ellzey’s campaign paid Mayes about $32,000 for media consulting.
Ellzey named John Fritz, principal of the Oklahoma City-based firm Tomahawk Strategies, as his new general consultant. Tomahawk Strategies’ Cameron Cowger is now serving as campaign manager.
Wright finished first in the March primary, taking 45 percent in an 11-way race. Ellzey took 22 percent.
Wright has raised less money than Ellzey, but has the backing of the conservative Club for Growth, which would engage on Wright's behalf if it thought he was in trouble, Club political director Andy Roth said Wednesday.
The Club has spent about $2,300 for Wright, compared to hundreds of thousands of dollars in other Texas races.