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Independent Expenditure Heads Face Tightrope Act

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
The National Republican Senatorial Committee picked Mike DuHaime to serve as its independent expenditures director.

McKenna oversaw two Senate cycles as the DSCC's political director in 2008 and 2010. She also boasts more than a decade of work with EMILY's List. The DSCC has gone to great lengths this cycle to promote its bevy of female challengers and incumbents, DSCC Executive Director Guy Cecil suggested it was fitting to pick an IE director with experience in women's candidates.

"Martha McKenna has helped oversee some of the best Democratic campaigns of the last decade," Cecil said. "Martha's experience at EMILY's List and electing women candidates across the country will be especially critical given the historic opportunity we have to elect more Democratic women to the Senate than ever before."

DuHaime also brings recent Senate experience to the table from running the NRSC's IEs last cycle. But he is perhaps best known for advising New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's campaign in 2009 and managing former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani's bid for president in 2008. He also served as the Republican National Committee's political director in the 2006 cycle.

"Mike is one of the best operatives in the Republican party today and we are fortunate to have him," NRSC Executive Director Rob Jesmer said. "We would not have picked up seven seats last cycle without him, and [NRSC Chairman] Sen. [John] Cornyn is confident he will do great work again in 2012."

In addition to DuHaime, Strimple a pollster by trade will serve as the strategist for the NRSC's IE unit. Strimple also advised Christie's 2009 victory. He was a senior adviser for Sen. John McCain's (Ariz.) 2008 presidential bid and served on Sen. Mark Kirk's (Ill.) 2010 campaign.

"Greg has a record of being an integral part of winning campaigns in some very tough places for Republicans," Jesmer said. "His polling last cycle in Sen. Kirk's race was dead on; more importantly his analysis provided the road map for a Kirk victory."

The stakes are high for both units to execute their party's message in each race without actually coordinating with the NRSC or the DSCC. A misfire can quickly blow up in a committee's face, even if it legally had no control over the advertisement.

Most famously, in the 2006 cycle, three simple words in an RNC IE spot ignited charges of racism in the Tennessee Senate race between then-Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D) and now-Sen. Bob Corker (R).

"Harold, call me," says a blonde actress who pretends she met Ford at a Playboy mansion party.

The controversial spot put the NRSC, RNC and Corker on defense even though none of those parties had any role in writing the advertisement or approving it for the airwaves. Eventually, Corker publicly called to take the ad off the air, and RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman was forced to defend a spot he had no part in creating on broadcast television.

"That was an IE ad," a Senate Republican operative recalled. "The campaign couldn't do anything about it ... It got very uncomfortable for everybody trying to explain."

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