Reality has set in for aides to outgoing House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and it looks something like this: coffee and cocktails with headhunters, lobbyists, chiefs of staff, old friends and business contacts. In short, anyone who can help in the job search.
The Virginia Republican’s leadership aides will be out of work by the end of July, setting off a job-search effort that Cantor and his chief of staff, Steve Stombres, have helped spearhead since Cantor lost on June 10.
“Obviously there has been a lot more coffee drunk and lunches eaten than before that primary,” K Street recruiter Ivan Adler of the McCormick Group told CQ Roll Call. “No doubt that people are now reaching out to their librarians and bartenders and rabbis to seek advice.”
Finding a new job can be grueling, even with a plum résumé, the help of a high-profile boss and a vast network of Washington insiders. “Everybody knows that Cantor guys are to be taken care of,” said Sam Geduldig, a partner with Clark Geduldig Cranford Nielsen. “If you know of anything, let them know, they’re taking it very seriously. Everybody wants everyone to land well.”
Some Cantor aides may find gigs on the Hill with other leadership offices in the House or Senate. Others have their eye on the private sector, though K Street isn’t necessarily plated in gold like many Hill denizens presume .
“It’s a more challenging environment on K Street because lobbying revenues are nowhere near as robust as they have been in the past, so that employers are really looking hard at who they bring on,” Adler said. “Part of that is due to economics and there’s gridlock, the lack of activity on Capitol Hill has had a major adverse effect for the lobbying community.”
Rich Gold, who runs the lobby practice at Holland & Knight, said his industry is more conservative now about hiring.
“Obviously, it’s not 2002-2003 and the height of K Street hiring,” Gold said. “Today it’s much more about somebody you have a long-term relationship with and who you’re confident will do well.”
The number of open jobs is always finite.
As one source said confidentially: “They’re not firing Candi Wolff at Citi because Steve Stombres is now available,” referring to Citi’s executive vice president for global government affairs. (She was a top White House liaison during the George W. Bush administration, and worked in senior staff for Senate Republican leadership along with serving as tax counsel to former Sen. Malcolm Wallop of Wyoming.)
Still, many opportunities exist for staffers of the Cantor operation’s caliber.
In addition to Stombres, those particularly in demand will be senior policy adviser Aaron Cutler and health care expert Cheryl Jaeger. Senior aide Neil Bradley is expected to stay on the Hill, perhaps in House GOP leadership, sources said.
Stombres has already announced his plan to leave the Hill, and Doug Heye, deputy chief of staff for communications, is also eyeing private-sector gigs.
“A lot of these folks will have to be able to advocate on their own behalf, call in the chits they’ve been accumulating and cash them in,” said K Street recruiter Julian Ha of Heidrick & Struggles.
Ha added that Cantor aides, or anyone else in a similar boat this cycle ought to think about the lobbyists who have visited them through the years and create a target list of potential job opportunities.
Tips include: Critique their efforts, find their voids and then offer insight how they would fill those gaps.
Some of the best paying jobs on K Street are with multiclient firms and come with the biggest risks. If you bring in business, you make a lot of money. But if it turns out that client development is not a strong skill, then you could end up making much less — or find yourself without a job, again.
Associations and corporations offer in-house gigs with their own ups and downs, perhaps a bit more stability but probably with more internal politics to navigate among association members or with corporate headquarters.
“Set up those coffees,” Ha said. “The three rules of finding your next job: network, network, network. It takes a little bit of shoe leather and a lot of rejection to ultimately get to the source who will then lead you to the lead.”
Cantor is leaving his leadership post but has not suggested yet he would leave office before the end of this Congress. Many Washington insiders predict he has his eye on more of a Wall Street, rather than K Street gig. After all, he may yet run for political office again — for governor or Senate in Virginia — and may prefer not to have that “L” branding.
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