Talking Shop with David Barklage, political consultant

Monday, May 3, 2010
David Barklage, President of the Barklage Company, a political consulting firm, stands in front of his office window displaying stickers from the various campaigns he has worked on. (KRISTIN EBERTS)

Former Cape Girardeau businessman David Barklage is now a major player in Missouri politics. In the mid-1990s, after managing a radio station and chain of convenience stores, he got tired of selling air time and Twinkies. He approached the Missouri Republican Party about representing it and founded his own political consulting firm. Over the years he's built a winning reputation and now has offices in St. Louis, Jefferson City, Springfield and Cape Girardeau, representing candidates and organizations across Missouri and beyond.

Q: What was it like growing up in Cape Girardeau?

A: I went to Centenary United Methodist Church, and they had an amazing congregation. Everybody from my neighborhood went there. I had the best neighborhood. I grew up on Brookwood. There were like 70 kids and we did everything together. Somebody had a swimming pool. Another house had a basketball goal. We'd play sports together. People just would sit out and tell stories. Still some of my closest friends, through all this time, are from this neighborhood. When you look at "Leave it to Beaver" on TV, and see that idyllic life, that's what we had. My family's been here seven generations.

Q: How did your political career begin?

A: I graduated from Central High School in 1979 and was student body president. I went off to Central Methodist University but came back here to work on Bill Emerson's first campaign. Later I went to Washington to work for Bill and then came back here to work on his second campaign and then later managed his third one. After the 1982 campaign I was student body president at Southeast and was elected to the city council in 1984. I'd just turned 22, [and] I was the youngest [elected official] in the state. I was the only guy in college who was wearing suits in class because I'd have to shoot over to meetings. I never finished college. I'm 15 hours short because I dropped hours to take other opportunities and planned to go back but I kept getting more opportunities, and I never did go back. When I got elected, my first issue out of the chute was where the Show Me Center would be located.

Q: Who are some of your current clients?

A: The lieutenant governor [Peter Kinder], the Republican State Party, Senate Republican Caucus, Steve Tilly, Ameren UE, Missouri Hospital Association, Regional Business Council in St. Louis and Missouri Realtors Association.

Q: Tell me about working with Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder.

A: He served as my mentor when I managed [Emerson[']s] campaign. We kept crossing paths, first when he got elected to the [state] Senate . . . Then we took the majority in the Senate, and he was elected majority leader. I became his chief of staff. He's a very strong personality, he has very strong ideas and he's a guy who is 24/7 about politics. That's all he thinks about. The guy is always out of the box looking for solutions. He's not an ideologue. He doesn't do things for what he can get out of it. Whatever comes up, if he thinks it's right, he's all over it. He's the guy who, when you make a statement, he challenges it.

Q: How do you determine who you are willing to represent?

A: On companies, I try to do a limited portfolio. I focus on a very select group. I try to go with groups that are the most engaged. If they're going to be active and I can help them find a voice and work with different candidates, then I've done a good thing. On candidates, the problem is sometimes the best candidates don't have the resources to pay you. Where my business model fails is sometimes I'll do campaigns for little or nothing because it's the right candidate, the right race. I did a congressional race in northeast Missouri last cycle for $1. I do a lot of recruitment. Instead of people knocking on my door, I'm knocking on your door. I don't [choose by who pays the most]. I pick candidates by whether I think they have the potential to make a difference, if I like what they believe or do. If I think they're the right answer for other people, even if I don't like them.

Q: You had a 95 percent success rate with your political campaigns in the last election cycle. What's the secret to your success?

A: I believe I'm successful because I pick the right candidates. Not because I have a brilliant strategy. It is always the candidate.

Q: Why are you a Republican?

A: My parents were really independent. I think part of it is when you are coming of age who is president. I was coming of age when Ronald Regan came on the scene. He was an inspiration. It was probably the fact the Peter Kinder asked me to work for Bill Emerson and he was such a down-to-earth guy who delighted in working with people and helping them succeed. He was very much a strong mentor. I just sort of morphed.

Q: What advice would you give someone thinking of running for office?

A: There are three rules I always give. Don't run if you can't afford to lose, personally, professionally and financially. Don't run if you can't win. Keep your perspective. The friends you have before you go to Jefferson City are the friends you keep. The people you meet along the way, very few are friends. In politics the more you give, the more people will take. Don't expect appreciation.

Q: What's the best thing about being in politics?

A: The best thing is you can actually make a difference, as long as you don't care who gets the credit. It is amazing the positive impact you can have on people's lives. It really is a means to change society.

Q: What's the worst thing about politics?

A: It's a blood sport. There's not much goodness that comes to a person from getting involved in politics. The Internet peels you open. People can say things about you, your family, your kids. Your life is always scrutinized and the people you care about are always under that scrutiny.

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