Sharon Caldwell: How ‘legitimate, funded conservatives’ gained the Sooner edge

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 17-Aug-2010

Sharon (Hargrave) Caldwell, a founding partner of CMA Strategies, has been running or advising successful campaigns for conservative Republicans in Oklahoma for some 30 years. She still finds the conservative Republican surge to legislative control and, this year, possible dominance of statewide elective positions a matter or wonder, and celebration.

In an interview with CapitolBeatOK, she remembers her involvement began not in a paid capacity, but as part of a cause: “The transformation has been in small steps.  The first step I was part of was as a volunteer for Mickey Edwards when he won the primary in 1976, then the general election.” Edwards took the place of John Jarmon, and made the seat Republican for the first time in state history. Caldwell continued, “I was also privileged to have been part of the Don Nickles U.S. Senate campaign in 1980.”

The memory of those dramatic victories here in the Sooner State continues to resonate after three decades: “In both of those elections the most conservative Republican unexpectedly won the primary then went on to win in November.  These were not only Republican victories but conservative ones as well. I believe that was transformational in Oklahoma politics. From that moment forward, when there was a legitimate and funded conservative they were generally the favorite.”

She continued, “In 1988 when Bob Anthony won a seat at the Commission that was a foot in the door for secondary offices for Republicans. Of course, 1994 was a banner year that saw a both conservative governor elected with Frank Keating and a conservative U.S. Senator. The election of a Republican House in the state legislature followed closely by a GOP senate has almost completed the transformation of Oklahoma.”

Caldwell’s other business endeavor (Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates) is listed by Roll Call, a Washington, D.C. publication, as one of the best Republican consulting firms in he country. As the years have passed, her breadth of experience has come to include consulting work for Fortune 500 companies, trade associations and a much broader focus that election campaigns, although the processes of voting remain her focus. 

She has worked in 40 states in the course of her career, but says she’s proudest of her efforts contribution to revitalization of Oklahoma City, including MAPS, MAPS for Kids, school bonds, the “Big League City” campaign and last year’s MAPS III proposal.

Discussing the past, present and future of Oklahoma politics with CapitolBeatOK, she looked to November, and said, “It is my hope that in 2010 we will hold those legislative branches, elect a Republican governor and win many secondary offices.  If those predictions are correct the transformation will have come full circle.”

So, is there a scenario or two in which Republicans might “”blow it” this November? This was the same question posed to Caldwell’s longtime friend and colleague, U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, back in May.

She responded, “One of the key rules in politics is that ‘it is never over until it’s over.’ Three months in a political campaign is a lifetime. The Republicans can certainly lose if they take it for granted; do not understand the mood of the electorate; do not execute great campaigns; fail to go on the offense; or have a national situation completely change the election environment.”

Campaign consultants are often criticized for making modern campaigns too advertising-oriented or seemingly venal in motivations. Asked for a summary of her wholesome view of the role of consulting professionals in modern political campaigns, she responded:

“Many people believe anyone can be a political consultant — and anyone can.  But very often people who have only been in limited campaign situations simply do not know what they do not know. Being a consultant should mean being able to bring a wide breath of experience to a campaign, understanding how the environment changes the dynamics and the tactics.”

She continued, saying the job entails, “creating a budget and knowing how to adjust to ongoing realities. Designing messages that are effective at persuading target groups.  Being able to make huge adjustments overnight and, finally, never believing that everything that can be done has been done.”