Name doesn't ring a bell? Let's try this one: the Trailhead Group.
Fingers starting to snap now?
Oh, yeah, oh yeah. The down 'n dirty, hardball Republican 527 committee that two years ago tracked a bloody path of slash-'em politics all over the state? Founded by former Gov. Bill Owens and funded by beer magnate (and failed U.S. Senate candidate) Pete Coors, along with oilman (and just-named University of Colorado president) Bruce Benson?
It was run by an operative named Alan Philp, who was flogged for broadcasts and campaign fliers attacking Democratic candidates like now-Gov. Bill Ritter, state Sen. John Morse, Pueblo state Rep. Buffie McFadyen and Lakewood state Sen. Betty Boyd. The tactics included misleading attacks and outright lies, and Trailhead was investigated for criminal wrongdoing.
Interesting that Philp lost every targeted race he was trying to influence.
And now Jeff Crank, the squeaky-clean losing candidate for Congress two years ago, has announced Philp will run his campaign this go-round.
"I am honored to have someone of Alan's caliber to add to our team," Crank said. "Alan brings nearly 15 years of experience to this race, and his interest in joining our team further illustrates the strength of our organization."
Two years ago, Crank, former top aide to former Rep. Joel Hefley and Colorado Springs Chamber executive, was widely considered the frontrunner to replace his retiring ex-boss. Then Crank got slimed by supporters of Doug Lamborn, accused of gasp! supporting the "radical homosexual agenda" (not true) and of supporting taxes (ditto). Hard to figure which was worse for conservative Republican voters in the 2006 primary.
Come Election Day, the trick worked and Lamborn beat Crank by a smidge.
This year, Crank, along with another 2006 candidate, Bentley Rayburn, is back for what promises to be one doozy of a grudge match. Setting the Crank/Philp news aside for a moment, let's take a look at how things are shaping up:
In the Lamborn camp, Jon Hotaling, the take-no-prisoners campaign manager largely credited with the former state lawmaker's success in 2006, is gone, off to help state Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, in his race to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo.
Replacing Hotaling is a woman named Robin Coran, a devoted Republican, former member of Fountain's city planning commission and an elected bonus delegate for El Paso County to the state GOP convention. Also, getting Lamborn re-elected is her first shot at running a campaign. No stress there.
Rayburn has secured the endorsement of former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnnis and has tapped McInnis' former chief of staff, Mike Hesse, to run his campaign.
"It's just one of those things where all the stars just lined up," Rayburn says.
Already, Rayburn has taken hits for deciding to petition onto the ballot rather than going through the traditional caucus system. Hesse says that decision was, at least in part, an effort to rise above the "bad blood" between Crank and Lamborn and to energize Republicans who might not otherwise be engaged across the 5th District, which includes El Paso and five counties to the west.
Which brings us back to Philp, who just two years ago set some kind of record for smearing the most candidates in a single election cycle. Last week, Crank was asked why on Earth he hired this guy.
"He's the best campaign manager out there," Crank said. Beyond the Trailhead Group, Crank says, Philp has worked on many campaigns, most recently as regional political director for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.
And Crank vows, as in 2006, he's committed to a "bright, ethical campaign" this year.
"As we learned in the last cycle, the campaign begins with the candidate, and a candidate decides the tone and tenor of what their campaign will be," Crank says. "I have no doubt in my mind that Alan Philp will do the right thing, because I'm the candidate and I won't let it get out of control."
Good luck with that. At least Lamborn's not a Democrat.