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With the gavel for the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee hanging in the balance, Democratic lobbyists are rallying behind current Chairman John Dingell (Mich.), as he tries to fend off a well-publicized power grab for the job by Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.).
While discussions for House leadership races are typically done at the Member level, several former Dingell staffers said that hasnt stopped them from working the phones to put in a good word for the Capitol Hill denizen.
In particular, K Street has sought to convince members of the Blue Dog Coalition, the Congressional Black Caucus, and the New Democrats to back Dingell against Waxman, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Lobbyists are doing intelligence gathering, talking to lawmakers they are on a first-name relationship basis with, said one lobbyist, who has made calls to drum up support for Dingell.
Still, lobbyists said their activity has been tempered by not wanting to appear too far out in front of Dingells Capitol Hill whip team.
There is also concern among lobbyists that Waxman could try to paint Dingell as being too close to downtown.
For folks on K Street its just not wise to get too actively involved, said the lobbyist.
The House Democratic Caucus is expected to vote in a secret ballot on the chairmanship next week.
Since he was first elected in 1955 to fill the seat of his father, Rep. John Dingell Sr. (D-Mich.), the younger Dingell has amassed a formidable K Street presence.
His network spans the health care, energy, manufacturing and telecom industry sectors.
Dingell has forged strong ties with former senior aides-turned-lobbyists, including John Orlando of CBS Corp., Ryan Modlin at the National Association of Manufacturers, Marda Robillard of Van Scoyoc Associates, and Alan Roth of US Telecom. Hes also close to Reid Stuntz of Hogan & Hartson and solo practitioner Michael Barrett.
Dingells Chief of Staff Michael Robbins is primarily running his whip operation. Robbins reached out to Dingell alumni and friends with a late-night e-mail last Thursday, acknowledging that many had offered support and assistance. The e-mail missive included talking points and press clips for them to use. Further, Robbins asked K Streeters to gather intelligence from Members and staff.
After receiving their marching orders, lobbyists said they have been quietly reaching out to lawmakers and helping staff strategize potential pickups in the chairmanship race to ensure that Dingell would continue to run the committee.
Notwithstanding the call for downtowns help, Dingell spokeswoman Jodi Seth said her bosss focus is on Capitol Hill.
Chairman Dingell has long-standing relationships with lots of people in Washington who have called and offered their help, but Dingell sees this as an election among Members of Congress, Seth said in an e-mail.
Waxmans spokeswoman declined to comment about the gavel race.
For many its not just about loyalty to Dingell.
Should Waxman be successful in his attempt to oust Dingell, he would wield considerable power as the House gets ready to tee up climate change and health care reform. That, in turn, could force companies into a far more defensive lobbying posture since Waxman is likely to call for much stricter regulations against industry.