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In Pivot to Messaging, Ron Johnson Looks to Purge Staff

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo

Sources indicated that when Johnson came to Washington, he put a staff together like “any other Senator” but quickly realized that the day-to-day grind of legislating was not his forte. Johnson said last week that he wanted more of his office’s focus to be on building an effective messaging operation. Johnson’s legislative director, Robert Duncan, has already left the office.

“We’ve had incredibly low turnover in my office,” Johnson said. “Robert Duncan had a good opportunity to get back on the Senate floor. That’s about the only individual that we’ve had turn over in 15 months.”

Purging staff, however, is not new for the political newcomer.

According to a Roll Call review of Federal Election Commission disclosure filings and the staff salary database LegiStorm, only five of the 43 salaried campaign staffers working in the last quarter of Johnson’s 2010 Senate campaign got jobs with the Senator’s official office. Johnson retained his state director, deputy state director, a caseworker, regional representative and a receptionist from the campaign — all of whom are based in Wisconsin.

Though candidates don’t necessarily bring their entire campaign staffs with them once elected, it is very rare to have no carryover from the campaign, sources said. GOP sources not affiliated with the campaign or Johnson’s office said former staffers had indicated the Wisconsin Senator was frustrated with his operation in the days following the election and informed his staffers they would not be coming with him to D.C.

Insomuch that Johnson wants to focus on messaging, however, he has found recent success.

Johnson has been building a stronger television presence in the past few weeks, using the April 3 Wisconsin primary as a springboard to a larger media platform. He appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on April 1 and “Fox News Sunday” on April 8. In his interview last week with Roll Call, he emphasized how he could help presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney with his campaign messaging.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to coordinate our message very closely,” Johnson said. “I believe he certainly understands [the] advantage of having a coordinated message and strategy. I can’t predict success until it happens, but certainly the will is there.”

McConnell asked Johnson to coordinate with the GOP nominee after Johnson lost the race to become the GOP conference vice chairman to Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.).

Still, Johnson also has high-profile backers in GOP campaign circles. Foster Friess, the billionaire who until recently was a major backer of the presidential campaign of former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), told FOX News on Wednesday that Johnson should be on GOP presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney’s short list of vice presidential candidates.

David Drucker contributed to this report.

Correction, April 13

This story has been changed to reflect the correct number of Johnson campaign staffers who were retained for salaried positions in the freshman’s Senate office. That number is five out of 43.

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