After a shaky primary-election showing, Republican congressional candidate Pedro Celis has reshuffled his campaign, replacing his campaign manager and hiring a pair of young strategists who helped tea-party challenger Dave Brat beat House Majority Leader Eric Cantor earlier this year.
Brat’s campaign manager, Zachary Werrell, is now managing Celis’ campaign, replacing local Republican strategist Don Skillman, who had been campaign manager for the primary. Gray Delany, another Brat campaign staffer, is now Celis’ campaign spokesman.
The Everett Herald’s Jerry Cornfield first reported on the Werrell and Delany hires Wednesday. The duo, both in their early 20s, were the sole paid staffers on Brat’s campaign, which beat Cantor despite being outspent by more than 40 to 1.
The moves come after a shaky primary showing for Celis, who is challenging first-term U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, in the swing 1st Congressional District, which stretches from Kirkland and Redmond through Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties.
Celis took 16 percent of the vote in the primary, barely beating a little-known rival, Robert Sutherland, by fewer than 1,000 votes.
Delany downplayed the notion the campaign moves were prompted by the primary scare. “It was really about adding significant horsepower,” he said. Skillman, who had been campaign manager, is remaining part of the campaign in a consulting role, he added. Delany said the campaign also has added other new staff, including a field director, looking ahead to the general election.
Democrats were quick to suggest the hires are a sign that Celis is trying to shore up the right-wing base of the Republican Party. “We’ve been saying for months he’s far too extreme for the 1st District, and this is a pretty strong indication,” said Viet Shelton, DelBene’s campaign manager.
In Virginia, David Brat took down Cantor with conservative stands on immigration, federal spending and other issues. But Delany said the new hires don’t represent any ideological shift for Celis.
Democrats also circulated a Yahoo News story about Werrell’s now-deleted Facebook postings in which he staked out a slew of “provocative opinions,” including comparing George Zimmerman’s shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin to abortion.
Delany dismissed such talk as a distraction from the real issues of the 1st District campaign, including the nation’s $17 trillion federal debt. “It’s not about Zach and I or any of our viewpoints,” he said.