Clinton Relies on Soul-Searching Message Guru

Branding whiz Roy Spence has taken on a bigger role in the Clinton campaign.

ByABC News
January 10, 2008, 10:07 AM

Jan. 10, 2008 — -- The Texas advertising guru and branding whiz, who spent most of October on a spiritual soul quest, trying to reconnect with "the heart of America," has been tapped for a bigger role in Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

Roy Spence, 60, a longtime friend of the Clintons, is the quirky Austin-based advertising legend who coined the phrase "Don't Mess With Texas," and developed the Southwest Airlines slogan, "You are now free to move about the country."

He was with Clinton at her Chappaqua, N.Y., home yesterday, after she flew in overnight from New Hampshire and met with her team to develop a campaign strategy for the next four weeks of key primaries.

Spence was active early on in the campaign, but will now take on an even greater role, inputting how to rebrand Clinton's message to voters.

"Hillary wants somebody in there that is going to comprehend what messaging conversations are being had, and how things are being formulated," a Clinton campaign insider told ABC News.

Referring to reports of infighting among Clinton's top-tier messaging staff, the insider suggested Spence wouldn't be directing changes in messaging, but will have input on what top level staffers are doing.

"You've got different camps looking out for their backside. They're looking for a grown-up to help," said a Clinton camp insider.

One person familiar with Spence's political work told ABC News, "He's an interesting guy, probably one of the more offbeat guys to come up through the Democratic ranks."

In the fall, Spence began an intermittent seven-year spiritual/patriotic trek to "reach out and celebrate the goodness of America," blogging along the way about the people he meets and places he visits.

"My plan is to walk for one month per year, for seven years, or until I've crossed this great country," Spence wrote in a September e-mail to his employees.

"I want to pay my respects to America. To get out of the planes, trains and automobiles, and into the hands, hearts and soul of this country," he wrote. "To participate in the shared purpose and promise of the American people and this great land. This will make me a better marketer and a better person."

And the Clintons have reportedly told Roy they'll join him for part of the journey.

"Roy has said Bill or Hillary said they are going to walk with him along the way," Spence's spokeswoman Melanie Mahaffey told ABC News.

"He pops up every time there seems to be a problem with imagery," said Matthew Dowd, a former Bush team campaign strategist and current ABC News contributor, who has known Spence for 20 years.

In the face of Sen. Barack Obama's charisma and inspirational message of "hope" and "change," and his victory in the Iowa caucuses, Clinton has already begun to retool her "ready to lead" message, arguing she, too, is "ready for change." Her campaign may even be trying to rebrand Clinton, highlighting her softer side.