Stutzman’s electability has always been a concern for party leaders, given his reputation as an unwavering conservative in the House. He sits well to the right of the field in a three-way primary contest that includes his fellow House colleague, Rep. Todd Young. His early campaign approach, however, assured campaign officials they wouldn’t be seeing a repeat of another Indiana Senate nominee, Richard Mourdock, whose inexperience cost the party a winnable Senate seat in 2012.
Stutzman’s first hires included former NRSC executive director Rob Jesmer and former NRSC deputy political director Terry Nelson, both partners at FP1 Strategies, which has close ties to the campaign committee. Brooks Kochvar, who worked on New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s 2010 race, was Stutzman’s general consultant, and Brendon DelToro, previously the chief of staff to fellow Indiana GOP Rep. Jackie Walorski, was named campaign manager.
But over the past two months, that entire team has been replaced.
Back in October, DelToro, Kochvar, and political director Joe Knepper left the Stutzman campaign, citing a difference in vision for the campaign’s strategy. In their place, Stutzman brought on the Indiana-based firm Mark It Red, who had worked on his 2010 Senate race against Coats.
Stutzman told Howey Politics at the time: “I thought it was good to have a team that has their finger on the plus of Indiana politics … With the environment the way it is now, I needed to go with some I’ve had experience with.”
Though the transition raised some alarms among political watchers, Jesmer told National Journal at the time that it was "much to-do about nothing,” and FP1 would continue working on the campaign.
“We’re still part of the team, we were out there a couple weeks ago, had a great meeting. It’s a good campaign,” Jesmer said in early November. “The guys he brought in have a lot of Indiana experience, and they have a lot of experience with Marlin, and they’re going to be a great addition to the team.”
Their relationship wouldn’t last much longer. On Thursday night, Stutzman announced in a Facebook post: “Exciting news for our campaign! We hired The Strategy Group Company to join our creative advertising team.” His campaign confirmed Friday that FP1 was no longer working on the race, and that they were bringing on Strategy Group Company, as well as Texas-based Harris Media for digital strategy.
The Strategy Group Company, run by Ohio-based consultant Rex Elsass, touts a client list that has included former Rep. Michele Bachmann, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
"[Elsass] is one of the best in the business when it comes to telling the stories of conservative candidates," said Stutzman campaign manager Joshua Kelley. "We're very confident that he’s going to be a strong addition to the campaign to help us win."