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Pollster Booted From Retreat

GOP Event Opens Thursday

The ascent last week of Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) to the Majority Leader post has put the agenda for the upcoming House GOP retreat somewhat in flux, but one thing is certain: Frank Luntz won’t be there.

The omnipresent Republican pollster was uninvited from the retreat — scheduled for this Thursday through Saturday in Cambridge, Md. — after Boehner adamantly told his colleagues at his first leadership meeting last Friday that he didn’t want Luntz there.

“Boehner said he wasn’t going if Luntz was going,” said a leadership source.

Spokesmen for Boehner and the Republican Conference both declined to discuss the issue, but multiple House GOP sources confirmed that Luntz was slated to attend the retreat until Boehner made his views known.

And two Republican sources added that after Luntz learned he was no longer welcome at the retreat, he enlisted a handful of GOP lawmakers to call the leadership and lobby on his behalf, but to no avail.

Instead of appearing at the retreat, Luntz will be holding a briefing following next Wednesday’s Conference meeting for those members who want to hear his latest advice.

In an interview Tuesday, Luntz would not address whether Boehner was responsible for having him knocked off the retreat schedule. Luntz said that speaking to lawmakers next Wednesday would be better anyway since he would have “more time” and be “less constrained” than he would if he were at the retreat.

Luntz would not say what specific advice he had for Conference members but did say the general topic would be “how to begin an election-year discussion with the electorate and how to set the right context for that.”

While Luntz won’t be at this week’s retreat, House Republicans will still get their fill of survey data from GOP pollster David Winston and focus group specialist Richard Thau. National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) will provide his usual briefing on the political lay of the land Thursday evening, and Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman will also be on hand to provide his take on the current landscape.

On Friday, lawmakers will hear remarks from President Bush and will also break out into smaller discussion groups focused on specific policy issues. Conference members are expected to discuss lobbying and ethics reforms on Saturday morning before heading back to Washington, D.C.

The exact details of the retreat agenda have not been finalized, as Boehner’s election last week prompted the leadership to go back to the drawing board. Boehner has emphasized that he believes the retreat should provide more opportunities for rank-and-file lawmakers to participate and should feature no lengthy leadership presentations other than Reynolds’.

Luntz has provided advice to the House Republican Conference on and off since late 1993, when then-Rep. Newt Gingrich (Ga.) brought him into the fold following his polling work for the 1992 presidential campaigns of Pat Buchanan (R) and Ross Perot (I).

Over that period, Luntz has been a mainstay of Republican retreats, right up to last January’s bicameral GOP gathering in West Virginia. And in the process, Luntz has cultivated a following of Members who value his advice on messaging and a similar number of lawmakers and aides who clearly don’t.

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