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While most of political Washington is eager to get out of town for the holidays, a group of die-hard Republican lobbyists will use their recess for something decidedly not relaxing: volunteering in the early caucus and primary states for their favorite presidential campaigns.
Whether they’re holding signs, knocking on doors, observing polls or making local media appearances, rewards abound for these lobbyists. Some are angling for jobs in a future administration, while others hope renewing old ties and making fresh connections with campaign aides will boost their future K Street business. For others, the thrill of the trail is enough.
“There’s a whole bunch of folks going up from K Street,” said Brad Card, a lobbyist at Dutko Grayling and longtime Mitt Romney devotee.
The former New Hampshire state prosecutor and undercover narcotics detective will be right at home when he arrives in the Granite State on Jan. 6, four days before its primary. Card’s words still drip with dropped R’s and short A’s. “I just want to support Gov. Romney,” added Card, who said he’s not interested in a White House post should Romney go all the way. “I legitimately believe that he would make a great president. I fervently believe that.”
Although Card hails from Team Romney, he said supporters for other candidates including former Speaker Newt Gingrich were also making plans to travel for their pick.
Romney, though, appears to be drawing the most K Street volunteers, which makes sense because the former governor also has collected the most campaign cash from D.C. insiders, besting opponents such as Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Drew Maloney, a Congressional liaison for the Romney campaign who is CEO of Ogilvy Government Relations, will be in Iowa and New Hampshire. Former Romney spokesman Kevin Madden, now with JDA Frontline, plans to go to New Hampshire. Ditto for McGuire Woods partner Elliot Berke and David Tamasi, who runs the D.C. office of Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications.
“For some folks who have been there for a longer time supporting the candidate, you know the players,” said one lobbyist who plans to help the Romney effort in an early state. “You’re the die-hards. You’re not looking for face time with the candidate or campaign staff.”
Another lobbyist who plans to head out on the campaign trail said that it’s more difficult to get K Streeters to Iowa than New Hampshire because the Hawkeye State caucus is just three days into the new year. New Hampshire’s primary is set for Jan. 10.
For Gingrich, whose own D.C.-based consulting work has been a subject for attacks on the trail, there is a sense that K Street imports on the ground in early contests could backfire.
“How does that look when a planeload of lobbyists show up in Iowa or New Hampshire for their candidates?” a Republican lobbyist and Gingrich supporter asked. “I think Romney has more of the Washington establishment who might be willing to go out and do it.”
Other Republican lobbyists said they will do their part without leaving their home base.
“I have no intention of going to Iowa or New Hampshire; I live in Syracuse, and it’s cold enough there,” said former Rep. Jim Walsh, now a lobbyist at K&L Gates. “It’s certainly good to be involved in the day to day of the campaign, but I can do that from here.”
Instead, the New York Republican is busy trying to recruit more than 100 former lawmakers to publicly support Romney before Jan. 3, the day of the Iowa caucus.
K Street volunteers on the campaign trail pay their own travel expenses and have to use vacation time, and many veteran lobbyists say it’s difficult to leave work and home obligations behind for retail politics.
And some GOP lobbyists think the time investment is better spent down the road, when the nominee is tapped and the partisan infighting is over. Once the nominee is chosen, Shawn Smeallie of American Continental Group said he expects about six of his firm’s 20 lobbyists to hit the trail.
“We send people to campaigns as we get closer to the election; we don’t really do much in the primary,” he said. “I walked doors for [George W.] Bush in Pennsylvania and did that for about three hours and said, ‘This is a younger man’s game.’”