Women consultants credited in Gingrich's primary win
The biggest winners in the recent S.C. Republican Primary may have been Leslie Gaines and Ruth Sherlock.
Prior to Jan. 21, Gaines and Sherlock had spent the better part of their time at their fledgling political consulting company running themselves ragged: fundraising for this candidate, marketing for that one, scheduling for a third.
"We decided to hit reset," said Gaines, co-owner of the Greenville-based Sherlock & Gaines Consulting Group.
The women wanted to be a full-service firm that ran campaigns from top-to-bottom, instead of pieces of campaigns for a variety of candidates.
"We wanted to be a driving force and run the whole show. We were planning to retool and start 2012 with a bang," Gaines said.
That bang came to them.
It was a phone call from Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich's campaign, asking the pair, who previously had done some free-lance work for Gingrich, to serve as the lead S.C. primary consultants for the former speaker of the House.
They said yes.
And within four months, Gaines and Sherlock were garnering Palmetto State political kudos that would make any consultant salivate: winning an S.C. presidential primary. Sherlock & Gaines is the first woman-owned firm to play such a big role in winning a Republican presidential primary in South Carolina, a state often knocked for its paucity of women lawmakers and women in political roles.
"We celebrate with these women. It's monumental for this state and indicates not only where South Carolina is moving but where the nation is moving with more women in politics and more women leading," said Mary Anne Jacobs, president of the Southeastern Institute for Women in Politics, which trains women to run for office.
Other S.C. politicos and consultants say they are yet to be convinced the pair are ready to be top-tier consultants.
The pair are undeterred by critics. "Gingrich was a great candidate, but we put together the ground game he needed," Gaines said.
Gingrich came in second to candidate Mitt Romney in the Florida primary on Tuesday, but is expected to do well in other Southern primaries.
Early on, Gaines and Sherlock saw there was much to do. "We talked with the campaign to assess their South Carolina needs, and we realized they needed everything," Gaines said.
The two, along with Gingrich's S.C. director Adam Waldeck, soon set up a 14-person team, including 10 women.
"It was not intentional," Sherlock said. "We don't believe in any kind of (gender) quotas. We looked for the people who could do the job the best. And it just happened that many of them were women."
Gingrich aide Waldeck said Sherlock and Gaines were instrumental in the candidate's S.C. operations, scheduling and fundraising efforts.
"They gave 150 percent. They know a lot of people across the state," said Waldeck, who stayed in touch with Gingrich and his national team, coordinating Palmetto State efforts with those in other parts of the country.
The women are modest about their success, giving much of the credit to Gingrich and his message.
Both women say they are pleased to have played a role and hope to inspire other women. Their success has the phone ringing, too, with requests to run more S.C. races. Those will have to wait, however. The pair were in Nevada to help run Gingrich's campaign there.