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Massive Hill Losses Mean New K Street Recruits

The exodus from Capitol Hill in January should provide a ready supply of talent to K Street interests, which are expected to field an unusually large crop of soon-to-be ex-lawmakers.

But lobbyists warn that the extent of the Democratic losses in Tuesday’s elections will likely mean a glut on the market that could slow hiring for all but the most experienced and plugged-in lawmakers.

“The people who are hiring are going to see there is a lot of supply and will take their time,” said Democratic lobbyist Steve Elmendorf, who runs Elmendorf Strategies.

One big catch, downtown denizens said, would be retiring Senate Banking Chairman Chris Dodd, who led a recent overhaul of the nation’s financial regulations and helped shepherd the health care bill. The Connecticut Democrat would be a valued recruit for top trade associations vacancies such as the Business Roundtable and the American Bankers Association, jobs that are expected to pay $2.3 million to $5.6 million. The Business Roundtable is expected to announce its new chief executive in the coming weeks.

Retiring Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), the ranking member on the Budget Committee, is also expected to be recruited by trade associations now conducting executive searches for lucrative spots. Those groups and past chief executive salaries include the American Gas Association ($1.4 million), Motion Picture Association of America ($1.4 million), Medical Group Management Association ($987,000), Generic Pharmaceutical Association ($731,000) and Associated Builders and Contractors ($569,000).

Gregg may face competition from well-qualified Democrats and from his fellow departing GOP colleagues, such as nine-term Rep. Mike Castle (Del.), who lost his Senate primary bid, and Rep. Pete Hoekstra (Mich.), the ranking member on the Intelligence Committee.

While moderate Democrats such as Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (S.D.) felt the pain Tuesday night, when the ranks of the Blue Dog Coalition were eviscerated, they may be attractive to K Street firms, particularly in this new era of divided government, lobbyists said.

Former Blue Dog Charlie Stenholm predicted that outgoing coalition members, including Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn.), will be in high demand.

“I would be very surprised if someone won’t talk to him soon,” said Stenholm, a Texas Democrat who was defeated in 2004.

Stenholm, now a lobbyist with Olsson Frank Weeda, said he always expected to return home to Texas and teach. But after he lost, he was offered a job lobbying for oil and agricultural interests, a gig he said he couldn’t refuse.

The former top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee said the work is essentially the same, with better pay and hours. “The wives are a whole lot happier,” he said.

Several lobbyists said lawmakers are more likely to be drawn to top jobs at trade associations than to lobbying and law firms.

A handful of retiring Democrats are expected to be tapped for Cabinet posts or other jobs in the administration. Some K Streeters speculate that retiring Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy, could replace Secretary of Energy Steven Chu.

Dorgan spokesman Barry Piatt declined to discuss his boss’s plans other than to say he wants to write books. “I don’t think he’s done a lot of spade work on that,” Piatt said.

Senate Agriculture Chairman Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), who lost her re-election bid, has been mentioned as a potential Agriculture secretary. Some K Street long-timers also say that Lincoln, who once worked as a lobbyist, would be well-suited to rejoin the profession.

As chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas), who lost Tuesday, may be an attractive candidate to head the Veterans Affairs Department. Edwards was also an early supporter of Obama during his 2008 presidential primary campaign.

While the lure of top salaries and the ability to stay close to the corridors of power may be attractive to some former lawmakers, others who are fatigued with Washington, D.C., are likely to head elsewhere. Some may seek jobs on corporate boards while others could land positions at educational institutions, think tanks and foundations.

Dodd, for example, may be drawn to a lucrative speaking tour as well as sitting on bank boards that are seeking someone knowledgeable about the new financial regulations, said one source familiar with the D.C. job market.

Indiana Democrats speculate that retiring Sen. Evan Bayh (D) will announce his intention to reclaim his former job as governor. Bayh, who has not ruled out running, has said he will announce his intentions in January.

Some political experts are convinced that Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.) is laying the groundwork for a Senate run in 2012, when Sen. Bill Nelson (D) will be up for re-election.

Lobbyists say some senior Democrats who are not returning — such as gruff House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (Wis.) and outspoken Rep. Bart Stupak (Mich.) — may not be suited to K Street.

“I can’t see those guys lobbying stylistically. I don’t see them having an interest in it,” said Rich Gold, who heads the lobby practice at Holland & Knight.

Of course, ex-lawmakers won’t just compete with one another for downtown jobs: Many K Street firms, which want to bring in people who are intimately familiar with legislative substance, are more interested in hiring top Hill staffers.

One lobbyist said that among the “hot properties” for K Street is Karen Knutson, the chief of staff to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Kerry Feehery, LeMieux’s chief of staff.

Ivan Adler, a McCormick Group Inc. recruiter, agreed. He said the highly prized access peddlers of yesteryear will give way to legislative experts, especially if gridlock prevails.

“If we’re sure that the next Congress is going to be less focused on creating laws,” Adler said, “then those people who know how to stop legislation are going to be more important.”

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