Several staffers who worked at the National Republican Congressional Committee during the 2006 cycle have an unofficial reunion dinner each year and the date of the event is easy to remember.
The get-together always takes place on “Foley Friday.”
It marks the anniversary of Sept. 29, 2006, the day then-Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) resigned in disgrace after it was revealed that he had been sending sexually explicit e-mails to a teenage page. The scandal became a tipping point in the election cycle and House Republicans went on to lose 22 incumbents and 30 total seats — and the majority.
Foley Friday dinners, which take place each year on the Friday closest to Sept. 29, have always been about reconnecting with old friends as well as reminding the former colleagues about one of their darkest days at the campaign committee.
But four years later, many of the same NRCC staffers who had a front row seat in watching the 2006 Democratic wave are now playing key roles in the possible Republican wave that many expect will return the GOP to power in the House this cycle.
Former Rep. Tom Reynolds (N.Y.), who headed the NRCC in 2006, said this year’s Foley dinner included a sense of optimism that hadn’t been present at past gatherings.
“Maybe the Foley dinners of the past might have been about looking into the past. 2010 is about looking forward,” said the former Congressman, who works in government relations at the firm Nixon Peabody.
Today, many of the top staffers who worked under Reynolds have landed influential jobs in the Republican consulting world, taken positions on high-profile campaigns or joined powerful conservative third-party organizations. Some can still be found at the NRCC or continue to have close connections to the committee.
One former 2006 NRCC staffer said the experience of living through the Democratic wave four years ago may have been painful, but it’s starting to pay dividends.
“You’re getting to the point with some of your clients that they say, ‘Oh, this guy does know what he’s talking about,’” the former staffer said. “And it really has nothing to do with being smart. It has everything to do with experience and unfortunately living through it on the receiving end.”
Former NRCC Political Director Mike McElwain works with the Washington, D.C.-based GOP firm DMM Media, which has been involved in several Republican House campaigns this cycle, including the special election victory of Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.). Former Deputy Political Director Jonathan Poe works at Rising Tide Media Group and has a client list that includes top GOP recruits such as state Rep. Scott Bruun in Oregon and attorney Andy Barr in Kentucky. And former Incumbent Retention Director Larry Telford is a partner with the GOP direct-mail firm Targeted Creative Communications.
Former NRCC Deputy Communications Director Ed Patru, who heads communications for the Senate bid of former World Wrestling Entertainment Executive Linda McMahon (R), agreed that the experience in 2006 has been invaluable in helping him navigate 2010.
“I think it’s beneficial in the sense that you have a duel perspective and any time you can go into a campaign having a good idea of what the thought process is on the other side of the wave, that’s helpful,” Patru said.
Former NRCC Communications Director Carl Forti — who also ran the independent expenditure operation for the committee in 2006 — founded the public affairs firm Black Rock Group. He also serves as political director for the well-funded conservative group American Crossroads, where he works with Jonathan Collegio, a 2006 NRCC press secretary who serves as spokesman for the third-party group.
Former committee Press Director Alex Burgos is the spokesman for the Senate campaign of former Florida Speaker Marco Rubio (R). Burgos’ wife, Joanna, is a spokeswoman at the NRCC, where she works alongside Brian O. Walsh, who serves as political director of the committee and worked on incumbent retention for a time during the 2006 cycle.
Forti and other former NRCC staffers said this week that they never thought they’d be on the giving end, rather than receiving end, of a wave election so soon after the drubbing they took in 2006.
“It reinforces the longtime belief that anything can happen in politics,” he said.
Forti said he hears many of the same arguments from Democrats that he remembers making when he was working to hold the House majority.
“I’ve been there when you have all the money in the world and you just can’t stop the slide,” he said. “I don’t know if you ever have sympathy. You can sympathize with being in that position, but I don’t feel bad.”
Some former 2006 committee staffers are further removed from the day-to-day politics of the 2010 cycle.
Longtime NRCC General Counsel Don McGahn left the committee in 2008 to become a commissioner with the Federal Election Commission.
2006 NRCC Controller Christopher Ward is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty last month to embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars during his time at the committee.
One former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee aide who keeps in touch with several 2006 NRCC staffers said he’s noticed a “cockiness” in his former adversaries in recent months. But the aide said he’s also sensed a bit of concern, especially in the past few weeks.
“Some of them see things are starting to come back down,” the former DCCC aide said. “They see the benchmark polling too. It’s starting to slip away. ... If they could change the date of the election, they would, and would have held it last week.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., takes a selfie with his cut-out head during the Hoops for Youth 16th annual charity basketball game held at George Washington University's Smith Center, September 8, 2014. The members of Congress team beat the lobbyist team 46-40. Buy photo here.