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NRCC’s Independent Expenditure Is Armed With Shields

First in a series of profiles of committee independent expenditure directors.

Republican strategist Mike Shields survived back-to-back Democratic waves in 2006 and 2008 and lived to tell about it. This year, he’s on the front lines of the Republican effort to take back the House majority.

The National Republican Congressional Committee will spend tens of millions of dollars on dozens of races this fall, but because of campaign finance law, the bulk of that money will be spent in independent expenditures and without coordination with the NRCC staff.

As director of the independent expenditure effort, Shields will have the final say in deciding where to spend those critical, independent dollars.

“It’s nice when you have someone that has your back,” Shields said. “In this job, you make a decision and you live or die on your own.”

This is a new role for Shields after four years as chief of staff to Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), but he comes in with a depth of confidence and trust within the GOP caucus for having guided the Congressman through two extremely tough re-election bids.

“He knows the skills needed to survive,” NRCC Executive Director Guy Harrison said about Shields. “He knows about being outspent and running in a challenging environment.”

Reichert is consistently a top target of Democrats because he represents a district that favored presidential candidates Al Gore, John Kerry and Barack Obama.

After defeating Microsoft manager Darcy Burner by 3 points in 2006, Reichert increased his margin of victory to 6 points in a 2008 rematch in a district that Obama won with 56 percent. With Shields at the helm of his campaign, Reichert localized his race by focusing on Burner’s résumé and as a result survived a national trend that swept away many of his colleagues.

Shields, 40, has seen both sides of a political wave.

His first full-time job in politics was at the Republican National Committee on the first day of the 104th Congress after Republicans won the majority in the 1994 elections.

Shields put his studies at George Mason University on hold to take the $17,000-a-year job clipping newspapers (by hand back then). He arrived at the RNC at 4 a.m. each day to compile the packets before the second employee, Chairman Haley Barbour, got to the office.

“It was probably the best thing that could have happened to me,” Shields said.

The job wasn’t glamorous, but it let him out early in the afternoon, and instead of going home Shields hung around the press office and learned how to write releases.

Shields’ interest in politics actually started much earlier in his life and 3,000 miles away.

He was born on Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and grew up in England, which sounds like the recipe for an intriguing accent, but Shields sounds like he could come from just about anywhere in America.

After Shields’ father retired from the U.S. Air Force after 20 years, his contract work for the National Security Agency took the whole family to England. The move was a homecoming for Shields’ English mother.

As part of a military family, the concept of being “on mission” was a way of life for Shields. “I learned about being a part of something bigger than myself,” Shields said.

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