Rand Paul Poaches Ted Cruz's Digital Strategist
In the 2016 presidential cycle’s first high-profile staff poaching, Sen. Rand Paul late Monday hired Republican digital guru Vincent Harris and his firm away from one of his most likely GOP presidential nomination rivals, Sen. Ted Cruz.
Harris, 26, will become chief digital strategist for RANDPAC, the campaign-in-waiting for Paul’s seemingly inevitable 2016 run for the White House.
Neither candidate has officially announced his candidacy, but the move was significant because Harris rose to prominence in Republican political circles for his innovative online campaign work helping Cruz in 2012 rocket from obscure primary challenger to the U.S. Senate.
“It is hard to leave Senator Cruz,” Harris told Bloomberg Politics on Tuesday morning. “It has been a highlight of not just my professional work but my life to work with his team.”
Still, the opportunity to work for the Kentucky senator, whom both Time and Politico Magazine dubbed “The Most Interesting Man in Politics” on their covers in recent weeks, was too good to pass up.
“Rand Paul is exciting because he’s forward-looking and different,” Harris, the 26-year-old owner of Austin-based Harris Media LLC, told Bloomberg Politics. “He doesn’t just want to run the same tech operation that’s been run before. This will not be a closed operation but a crowd-sourced campaign, one that innovates, led by a man who is a thought leader and innovator in politics.”
While neither side nor Harris will comment on the 2016 implications, the idea that Harris felt he needed to choose between Cruz and Paul less than two weeks after Republicans drubbed Democrats in the 2014 mid-term elections is a signal that both are moving swiftly toward White House runs and demanding exclusivity from one another. Harris confirmed he has not dropped Sen. Rob Portman, the Ohio Republican also considered a possible contender, from his roster. Portman is up for re-election to his Senate seat in 2016, too.
Harris Media, which the northern Virginia native founded in his Baylor University dorm room in 2008, had a busy, successful 2014 cycle handling the digital campaigns for incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Paul’s fellow Kentucky senator, and produced web ads and fundraising appeals in New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Alaska for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. His clients in 2015 include Louisiana Senator David Vitter and Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, both candidates for governor in their states.
Harris and his staff have become known for irreverent web advertising designed to be shared incessantly on social media. Among his firm’s biggest hits were a Buzzfeed-like cat-video site called DewFeed that mocked Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and a bizarre YouTube video with the grating but memorably ditty “What rhymes with Alison Lundergan Grimes?” on behalf of the McConnell re-election campaign.
"Vince Harris is truly an innovator who has led the charge to bring the GOP into the digital age,” said Doug Stafford, executive director of RANDPAC, in a statement. “His candor and honesty have enabled candidates across the nation to develop successful strategies that have been unrivaled in past campaigns."
Stafford said Harris Media would work alongside Saber Communications and CanDo Politics, two other firms contributing digital consulting to RANDPAC.