Monday, August 09, 2010

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The Rothenberg Political Report entered the 21st century last night by re-launching our web site. Skip the blogspot and go directly to and check out our new home.

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Friday, August 06, 2010

Jersey Native Looks to Shore up GOP Senate Majority

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Third in a series of profiles of committee independent expenditure directors.

“If it wasn’t for Mike DuHaime, I wouldn’t be a Senator today,” New Jersey state Sen. Anthony Bucco (R) recalled recently about a campaign that took place almost 13 years ago.

After this year’s elections, more than a dozen GOP Senate candidates might be saying the same thing.

Earlier this year, the National Republican Senatorial Committee announced DuHaime would direct the committee’s independent expenditure effort, which will fund the committee’s television ad blitzes and direct mail this fall.

“Mike DuHaime is a seasoned and well-respected strategist whose political skills and experience will greatly benefit Senate Republican candidates in the months ahead,” NRSC Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said. Because of campaign finance law, tens of millions of dollars will be spent through the IE unit without coordination with NRSC staff.

“We wanted someone with a broad array of experience — someone who’s worked on several campaigns and inside the committees, and Mike more than met that criteria,” NRSC Executive Director Rob Jesmer said.

When DuHaime was political director for the Republican National Committee during the 2006 election cycle, he hired Jesmer and Randy Bumps as two of his regional political directors. Bumps was the NRSC’s political director this cycle until earlier this year, when he moved to the IE side to advise DuHaime.

Politics Is a Family Sport

Republican strategists believe DuHaime’s diverse résumé will serve the party well in November. He has run campaigns when the political wind was at his back but also when it was in his face, and he has national experience from the RNC and running a presidential campaign.

But some of his most valuable experience comes from his native New Jersey, where politics was a daily sport for the DuHaime family.

DuHaime’s mother was mayor of Bloomingdale, a small town in the northern tip of the state where he grew up. His father was a Passaic County Freeholder who ran for Senate in 1996.

“I was sitting around the table listening to the so-called experts and the only person making any sense was Michael,” said GOP consultant Mark Campbell, who was working on the race. “I told him to give me a call after he graduated [from college] and I’d give him a job.”

His father lost the GOP primary to then-Rep. Dick Zimmer, but DuHaime finished his political science and journalism degrees at Rutgers University and landed a job with Campbell’s consulting firm.

In 1997, Bucco, then a New Jersey assemblyman, tapped DuHaime to manage his state Senate race.

“I was 23 years old and didn’t have $20 in my bank account but had $750,000 in the campaign account,” recalled DuHaime, now 37. “I basically lived in the headquarters. I had to learn everything.”

According to Bucco, DuHaime was relentless. After Bucco finished a long day of campaigning, he came back to headquarters to find DuHaime glued to his computer screen. Bucco left for the evening, but when he arrived early the next morning, he found DuHaime in the same position “and the couch in the back office wasn’t even rumpled.”

Bucco won a competitive primary and knocked off Democratic state Sen. Gordon MacInnes in the general election even though he was outspent in both races.

Going National

MacInnes wouldn’t be the last incumbent DuHaime would take down.

DuHaime went back to work as a consultant at Campbell & Pusateri, where he helped Pennsylvania businessman Don Sherwood hold a GOP open seat in 1998.

In 2000, DuHaime became deputy campaign manager for the Senate campaign of then-Rep. Bob Franks (R-N.J.), where he promptly “ran into Jon Corzine’s money.” Franks was severely outspent and narrowly lost by 3 points.

“It was a tough loss, but we had to be so creative and aggressive and disciplined,” DuHaime said.

After a stint as executive director for the New Jersey Republican State Committee, national Republicans started to take notice, and in 2004, DuHaime was hired to be the Northeast regional political director for the Bush/Cheney re-election campaign.

“Mike understood campaigns in a very tough region,” said former RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman, who hired DuHaime at the RNC after Bush won re-election. “He always had a strategic vision and was a good manager.”

After a tough 2006 election cycle, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) hired DuHaime to be his presidential campaign manager. The campaign chose to focus on Florida, instead of playing in the earlier primary and caucus states, and it planned to use Gov. Charlie Crist’s endorsement as a launching pad.

“We tried a different route because we felt like we had to,” DuHaime said. Based on the dynamics of the crowded field, ideology and primary calendar, Giuliani couldn’t just cruise into Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina and hope to win.

But when Crist turned his back on Giuliani at the last second and switched his support to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the strategy crumbled.

The experience wasn’t a total loss.

“It’s like starting a multimillion-dollar business from nothing. You’ve got to get phones, office space, everything,” DuHaime said about running a presidential campaign.

Revenge Is Sweet

This year DuHaime is tasked with assembling teams of pollsters and media consultants in at least a dozen races — and he’s doing it all from his office at Mercury Public Affairs in New York, making him the only IE director not based in Washington, D.C.

Crist’s decision to help torpedo Giuliani’s campaign may come back to bite the former GOP governor, who is now running for Senate as an Independent. If Crist becomes the de facto Democratic nominee, DuHaime and the NRSC may choose to spend millions of dollars against him.

It wouldn’t be the first time DuHaime has had the opportunity to avenge an earlier loss.

Last year, former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie (R) hired DuHaime to be his chief strategist in his race against Corzine, who was elected governor of New Jersey in 2005. “He knew what had gone wrong in past races and how we were going to be different,” Christie said recently.

Just like in 2000, DuHaime’s candidate faced Corzine’s checkbook.

“Mike had to resist the temptation to spend too much too early,” said Christie, who credited DuHaime with sticking to the campaign plan as Corzine flexed his financial muscle. “Mike was very disciplined and knew where and when to spend.”

Christie prevailed 49 percent to 45 percent, giving Republicans a boost in optimism heading into 2010.

Senate Republicans won’t be facing quite the same financial challenge as Christie, but Democratic incumbents in California, Wisconsin and Washington start the general election with a significant cash edge.

But to DuHaime, the fundamentals are the same and each election is about setting up a “clear choice between the incumbent and the challenger.”

“You just need enough money to get your message out,” DuHaime said. “You don’t necessarily need to match.”

The overall landscape won’t be easy. Republicans have to win virtually every competitive race in order to win back the majority. But Republicans believe DuHaime, former captain of the Rutgers ice hockey team, has the toughness for the job.

After a daylong trip to Washington last week, DuHaime hoped to make it back to Manhattan for an evening hockey game in a city league. His team recently defeated the team of New York Rep. Anthony Weiner (D). For DuHaime, battling Democrats is a 24-hour job.

This story first appeared in Roll Call on August, 3, 2010. 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Kentucky Senate: Paul Campaign clear about bio in Report interview

By Nathan L. Gonzales

If reporters wanted to know whether Kentucky GOP Senate nominee Rand Paul graduated from Baylor University, they probably should have asked his campaign. That’s what I did, and I got the answer, ten months ago.

Wednesday’s story in the Lexington Herald-Leader “Contrary to some media reports, Rand Paul has no bachelor’s degree” has created quite a stir. Paul’s opponent, Attorney General Jack Conway (D), and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee are happily sending around the clip in an effort to implicate Paul as the latest politician to exaggerate his resume.

But there is a difference between Paul and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) or Illinois Cong. Mark Kirk (R) who have admitted to rhetorical indiscretions about their resumes. There doesn’t appear to be any hard evidence that Paul misled the media on his Baylor experience. Some members of the media just got it wrong.

“Rand Paul, the Republican U.S. Senate nominee in Kentucky, holds a medical degree from Duke University but never received a bachelor’s degree from Baylor University, contrary to several media reports in recent months,” according to the lede of the Herald Leader story.

Here’s what I wrote in the October 2, 2009 edition of the Rothenberg Political Report (subscription only):

“Rand Paul, 46, grew up in Texas, where his father, Ron Paul, has been a member of Congress since the late 70s. Rand Paul attended Baylor University but left before graduating to attend Duke University Medical School. He finished medical school in 1988.”

I received the information from a conversation with Paul’s then-campaign manager David Adams, and as I recall, there was no effort to mislead me.

Obviously, I can’t rule out the possibility that some Paul staffer told some reporter that Rand Paul received a degree from Baylor. But given what a Paul staffer told me ten months ago, the burden of proof would seem to be on those who wrote the wrong information – or took incorrectly reported information and included it in their reporting or materials.

The other question, of course, is whether it will matter to voters at all. Will voters really care that someone who has a medical degree from Duke Medical School doesn’t also have an undergraduate degree from Baylor? At this point, that seems unlikely.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Even Veteran Members Will Struggle to Win

By Stuart Rothenberg

Reps. Chet Edwards (D-Texas), Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.) and John Spratt (D-S.C.) need to keep in mind the fate of former Reps. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) and Sue Kelly (R-N.Y.).

Kelly, first elected in 1994, had only one tough race (in 1996) before she was upset in 2006. In the two elections before her defeat, she drew 67 percent and 70 percent. Leach had a tight race in 2002 but coasted to victory in 2004. Two years later, he was upset by Democrat Dave Loebsack, who was widely dismissed by national Democrats.

This cycle, Edwards, Herseth Sandlin and Spratt face the same problems that their one-time Republican colleagues did in 2006. Can they swim against the current and win re-election? The prospects of all three Members are less than bright right now.

Edwards, 58, has been a Republican target for years, and the National Republican Congressional Committee almost got his scalp in 2002, when he was forced to run in a dramatically redrawn district. But as Mark Twain might say, reports of Edwards’ political demise were greatly exaggerated, and he has continued to defeat all kinds of challengers.

A member of the Budget and Appropriations committees, the Texas A&M graduate knows his district. His record has been conservative enough, and his support for the military (and military spending) has been robust enough, to allow him to win re-election even in difficult cycles.

Over the years, I have found the Congressman to be unusually approachable and down-to-earth. He readily acknowledges his challenges this year but notes that he has always found a way to win re-election, even in the most difficult of circumstances.

But 2010 isn’t shaping up to be “about” Edwards, and that’s bad news for the Congressman, who has a policy of not releasing his poll numbers.

Multiple polls (only one of which was conducted by a Republican firm for Edwards’ opponent) show the same thing: Voters in Edwards’ district continue to like him but are now intending to vote for GOP challenger Bill Flores. Edwards represents a very Republican district, and he trails Flores by double digits.

Edwards is running a very aggressive race against Flores, and his hopes of pulling out another win rest on his ability to localize the contest. The Congressman has the resources to do so. He ended June with $2.1 million in the bank and has been hammering Flores, a former Houston oil executive, for everything from misstating his voting history and failing to take steps to save the Big 12 Conference to taking a position that would kill the expansion of a nuclear power plant in the district.

I wouldn’t count out Edwards just yet, but he has an uphill fight.

Far north of Edwards’ district, in South Dakota, Herseth Sandlin suddenly finds herself with unexpected problems. In a contest that some politically incorrect observers are already calling the “hottest” race of the year, Herseth Sandlin, 39, faces state Rep. Kristi Noem (R), 38.

Both women are personable and attractive, but this time Noem is the outsider who should benefit from a strong Republican environment in the state and nationally, as well as from some obvious contrasts.

The Congresswoman, who is married to former Texas Rep. Max Sandlin (D), now a lobbyist, graduated from Georgetown University and Georgetown Law School. Noem attended Northern State University in Aberdeen and South Dakota State University, but she returned to the family farm after her father was killed in a farm accident.

While Herseth Sandlin’s first foray into elective office was a run for Congress (she lost a bid in 2002 but won a 2004 special election), Noem opted to run for the state Legislature. She was elected in 2006 and re-elected two years later.

The Congresswoman opposed cap-and-trade and health care reform, but she voted for the stimulus, is a co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act (also known as “card check”) and can be linked easily with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Noem is an unapologetic conservative who believes the government has grown too large and spends too much money. The executive director of the state Democratic Party has already called her an “extremist.”

A year ago, Herseth Sandlin seemed likely to coast to re-election, even in a bad year for her party nationally. That’s no longer the case. Noem is the real deal. If she wins, she, like fellow South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune, could become a political star.

In South Carolina, Spratt, the chairman of the Budget Committee and the only white Democrat serving in federal elective office in the state, hasn’t had a truly tough race for more than a decade.

This cycle, however, state Sen. Mick Mulvaney, who served one term in the state House and is in his first term in the state Senate, is a serious threat to the 67-year-old Congressman.

Spratt, who was first elected to Congress in 1982, has overcome weakness at the top of the ticket before. He won 63 percent of the vote in 2004, when Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry was drawing just 42 percent in the district, and he ran about 16 points ahead of President Barack Obama in the district in 2008.

Unlike Edwards or Herseth Sandlin, Spratt has a large African-American population in his district, giving him a solid base vote. But his seniority, his record of support for the administration and midterm dynamics this year mean a giant headache for him.

As the Budget chairman, Spratt is easily defined by what his party has accomplished and stood for since January 2009. His support for the stimulus, health care reform and cap-and-trade make him a juicy target in this Republican district.

Spratt’s longevity is testament to his political skill and personal appeal. But this year, his longtime service, Democratic label and recent votes on controversial issues may well give even those who have supported him in the past enough reason to look for a replacement.

So the question is simple for Edwards, Herseth Sandlin and Spratt: Can any of them localize their races enough to squeeze out another win? I’m certainly not expecting all three of them back in the next Congress.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on August 3, 2010. 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, August 02, 2010

DCCC Turns to Mook’s Ground Game for Fall

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Second in a series of profiles of committee independent expenditure directors.

Democratic operative Robby Mook’s entry into politics was a little dirty.

“I remember standing in front of the dump for hours,” Mook recalled. “Everyone takes their trash to the dump in Vermont, so that’s where you campaign.”

From a dump in Vermont to high-stakes presidential primaries to a top-tier Senate race, Mook has built his career by being in the middle of some of the biggest political battles in the country.

This cycle he’s in a critical position to help Democrats as they try to keep control of the House of Representatives.

Last week, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee reserved $28 million in TV ad time to defend 40 districts. Because of campaign finance law, that money will be spent in independent expenditures, an effort Mook will direct.

You wouldn’t expect a party to put a 30-year-old in charge of tens of millions of dollars — the DCCC spent $75 million in IE money last cycle, according to the Campaign Finance Institute — but Democratic strategists believe Mook has the experience and the temperament for the job.

The son of a physics professor and a hospital administrator, Mook grew up in Sharon, Vt. Technically, he was born in New Hampshire (because that’s where the nearest hospital was located), and ties to both states have come in handy.

It seems like politics has always been a part of Mook’s life, whether attending a rally for Bill Clinton in Burlington as a middle-school student or organizing a phone bank for the president four years later.

In ninth grade, Mook auditioned for the school play, and the head of the theater department also happened to be a state legislator running for re-election.

“It was one of the funniest auditions I had ever seen,” former state Rep. Matt Dunne said in a recent phone interview from Vermont, where he is running for governor as a Democrat.

Mook secured a role in “The Imaginary Invalid,” a French comedy by Moliére, and volunteered for Dunne in his spare time.

“Robby was clearly more interested in my campaign than in the play,” Dunne said. “We had a little sense there was a political gene in him.”

After high school, Mook went off to Columbia University, where he studied the classics because he always wanted to read Greek. He didn’t take a single political science course in college, but he continued learning politics during the summers.

As Dunne climbed the political ladder, he hired Mook as the first paid staffer for Vermont House Democrats before Mook had even finished his undergraduate degree. But it wasn’t an easy time as Democrats lost their majority.

After college, Mook worked as field director for Vermont Democrats’ coordinated campaign in 2002, another tough year in which Republicans took over the governorship after five terms of Howard Dean (D). But Mook followed the former governor onto the national political scene when Dean launched his presidential bid.

Mook started as Dean’s deputy field director in New Hampshire, where he finished second to Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), and then shifted to Wisconsin, where the former governor finished third.

After staying with the Dean campaign “until the bitter end,” as Mook put it, he signed on with the Democratic National Committee and was get-out-the-vote director for the Wisconsin coordinated campaign. Kerry narrowly won the state but lost the election.

Mook’s résumé is dotted with wins and losses, but he’s unfazed by it. “I think you learn more when you lose,” Mook said. “I’m glad I’ve had both.”

In 2005, Mook managed Democrat Dave Marsden’s win for state delegate in Virginia, taking over a Republican open seat, and in 2006 he ran the Democrats’ coordinated campaign in Maryland when Martin O’Malley (D) knocked off Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R) and Benjamin Cardin (D) defeated Michael Steele (R) for the open Senate seat.

In 2007, Mook returned to presidential politics, this time for Hillary Rodham Clinton.

He started as Clinton’s state director in Nevada, which rose in prominence after the Senator’s loss in Iowa and re-emergence in New Hampshire. Clinton won Nevada’s popular vote, though Barack Obama won more delegates.

Mook shifted to Ohio for Clinton, then to Indiana. After the pressure cooker of the Clinton campaign, Mook landed in New Hampshire, in the middle of one of the most competitive Senate races in the country.

Mook first volunteered for Jeanne Shaheen in 1996 when she first ran for governor and he was still in high school, but in 2008 he managed her race and led her to victory over incumbent Sen. John Sununu (R).

“I know from the outstanding job he did running my campaign that his energy and positive attitude are limitless. He is undaunted by challenges, and his political skills are unparalleled,” Shaheen said.

She isn’t the only one impressed by Mook.

“I’ve seen Robby in action in a lot of races. Clearly he’s the right man for the job,” DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen said. “He shares my view that we have to draw a sharp contrast on the issues that matter to voters.”

The Maryland Congressman hired Mook last year to be the DCCC’s political director, but after he “proved himself superbly in the specials,” Van Hollen entrusted him with the IE for the rest of the cycle. Mook directed the independent expenditures for special election victories in Pennsylvania’s 12th and New York’s 23rd, where a strong third-party candidate, Doug Hoffman, emerged to complicate the race.

Mook’s “ability to quickly change and go after Hoffman, to quickly retool, showed strong political instincts,” said Jon Vogel, the DCCC’s executive director who also ran the committee’s IE in 2008.

Vogel compared Mook’s job to running a factory, moving lots of product very quickly through a system. In this case, the product is polls, television ads and direct-mail pieces. “It’s a nerve-racking job,” Vogel said from experience. “Every strategic decision has a risk.”

“I try to stay out of the Beltway process bubble because what actually matters is the direction of the country, and that’s determined by who is in the majority,” Mook explained.

After working side-by-side with Vogel at the DCCC for more than a year, Mook is sequestered across South Capitol Street to the Fairchild Building and prohibited from strategizing with committee staff on dozens of campaigns.

But he won’t be alone. Van Hollen teamed him up with John Lapp, the former DCCC executive director who ran the IE in 2006 and advised as a consultant last cycle.

“It’s a tough climate and tough races, but he’s just the guy to do it,” Lapp said of Mook, whom he described as a “happy warrior” for his keen sense of humor and energy.

He’ll need both in an election cycle that seems to favor Republicans, in part because Democrats no longer have the common enemy of President George W. Bush.

“We’re running against a lot of very different candidates,” Mook said.

This story first appeared in Roll Call on July 27, 2010. 2010 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.