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Meet Seth Pendleton: Democrats’ Special Fixer

Courtesy Drew Gardner

“She looked at me, wrinkled her nose and goes, ‘No, I just like Scott Brown,’” he said. “That’s very powerful.”

Pendleton, who still lives in the Philly area, is a trained actor and member of the Screen Actors Guild and is credited in the 1994 movie “I.Q.” In 2004, he had a few months off from his master’s degree program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and decided to volunteer on Democrat Ginny Schrader’s open-seat campaign in Pennsylvania’s 8th district. It was there he met Brian Smoot, who would later become his partner at 4C Partners.

They worked closely on media training on that campaign, and during the 2006 cycle, Smoot called Pendleton and asked him to join the campaign of now-former Rep. Ron Klein (D-Fla.).

By then Pendleton had formed KNP Communications with partners John Neffinger and Matt Kohut. The trio met at Harvard in 2004. KNP was founded out of frustration during the 2004 presidential election, when they saw Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), a decorated war veteran, painted as soft on national security. The firm has focused largely on media training and speaker training.

Pendleton and his KNP partners do regular work for the Progressive Talent Initiative run by Media Matters for America, a two-year-old program that puts up-and-coming liberal talking heads through a media training boot camp.

Following the 2006 cycle, Smoot was hired as DCCC political director and asked Pendleton to join him once again. Pendleton was hired in October 2007 to build and execute a new candidate training program at the committee. Pendleton traveled around the country in 2008, assisting Democratic House candidates from Alabama to Minnesota to Arizona.

Part of debate prep is strategy — knowing an opponent’s weaknesses and taking advantage of them. Pendleton said now-former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick was able to fluster her opponent in Arizona’s 1st district that year, when Pendleton and her campaign team noticed Republican Sydney Hay did not respond well to direct questions from Kirkpatrick.

Pendleton likened the style of Kirkpatrick, who lost in 2010 and is running for her old seat in 2012, to the late Texas Gov. Ann Richards (D), whom Pendleton called the ultimate happy warrior. Richards was able to stick it to her opponents with a smile on her face.

After a second straight cycle of Democratic gains in the House, Smoot, Pendleton, Casey O’Shea and Nicole Runge left the DCCC to open 4C Partners in 2009. A few months later, Pendleton was coaching now-former Rep. Scott Murphy (D-N.Y.) in the 20th district special election. Murphy’s win was the first in a string of Democratic victories in competitive special elections that cycle that also included New York’s 23rd district and Pennsylvania’s 12th. Pendleton worked on all three.

“The candidates themselves matter a lot more, and Seth’s work is especially important in special elections, when there’s more of an intense media scrutiny on the candidates,” said Vogel, who was DCCC executive director last cycle. “Making sure the candidate is as sharp as possible during a debate and giving them the confidence to shine makes a big difference in these races.”

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