RNC Eyeing Ex-Hill Aide

Posted May 2, 2003 at 6:29pm

Former House aide turned mega-lobbyist Ed Gillespie is under serious consideration to be named the new chairman of the Republican National Committee, a move that could occur as early as this month, according to Republican sources close to the White House.

Gillespie, 41, would replace current RNC Chairman Marc Racicot, who is expected to take a senior position overseeing President Bush’s 2004 presidential campaign.

White House and RNC officials declined to comment on the story, but several GOP political insiders said on condition of anonymity that a final decision awaits the approval of Karl Rove, the White House’s top political adviser.

Gillespie himself said he has “not been offered any position,” but that he has offered to serve in any capacity to re-elect Bush. “If they wanted me to, I would lick envelopes.”

Another Republican close to the situation said: “This is something that is probably going to happen.” The source added: “It’s a safe assumption that that is correct.”

“Things are on the move,” said another campaign insider.

Several Republicans noted that in the ethos of the Bush White House, anyone openly jockeying for a job stands little chance of succeeding. Job seekers have to “look like you don’t want something in order to be offered the job,” according to one Republican. “This is all very sensitive stuff.”

Republicans described the upcoming changes as a part of a “moving of the Republican guard” in order to place White House loyalists in key positions as Bush prepares for his 2004 re-election run.

As part of the move, Jack Oliver, the No. 2 man at the RNC, could return to his 2000 role as chief fundraiser for the Bush campaign, according to GOP sources.

Campaign insiders caution that no final decisions have been made and several logistical details remain to be finalized.

Another Republican insider noted that Rove, who worked with Gillespie on the 2000 campaign, has yet to sign off on any of the proposed changes.

“This is all up to [Rove], and I don’t think he has made any final decisions yet,” said the Republican.

White House officials also are sensitive to the appearance that they are ousting Racicot, who remains in favor with the White House and is a close friend of Bush’s.

Another holdup is that the White House has not decided how responsibilities would be split between Gillespie and his deputy.

The White House has all but settled on a replacement for Oliver, but that change also awaits final approval.

“They are simultaneously deciding on the chairman’s job and the No. 2 job,” said one GOP strategist. “They want to announce it as a package.”

Once announced, the changes in the Republicans’ political operation will represent the clearest sign yet that Bush has begun transitioning toward his 2004 re-election run.

Within a month, the White House will have filled the top political roles at three key election-year positions: the presidential re-election committee, the RNC and the Republican National Convention.

Earlier this year, the White House named political strategist Bill Harris to run the convention with help from David Norcross. Lewis Eisenberg will head the host committee for New York City.

Gillespie, who helped oversee the GOP convention that nominated Bush in 2000, met with Harris last week to discuss the convention.

Gillespie, who is extremely well-liked in Republican circles, has built a career in Washington from the most humble of beginnings: He came to Capitol Hill two decades ago as an attendant in a Senate parking lot while a student at Catholic University. He later spent a decade as the tope aide to then-Rep. Dick Armey (R-Texas), a onetime Majority Leader, where he took a lead role in crafting the Republican’s 1994 “Contract with America.”

He also is quite close to Washington’s business community. Through his lobbying shop, Quinn Gillespie & Associates, Gillespie represents some of the largest U.S. businesses, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, SBC Communications, Microsoft and DaimlerChrysler.

In 2002, Quinn Gillespie raked in $9.9 million in fees, placing it at No. 12 on Roll Call’s list of the top lobbying firms of the year.

This year, the firm is looking to expand.

If Gillespie is chosen for the RNC post, several questions would surface, foremost among them whether he would cut his ties with his firm.

“Does he suspend his activities at Quinn, Gillespie?” asked a GOP operative close to the White House. “That’s a really tough call that Ed is going to have to face.”

If Gillespie were to retain his clients, he surely would become the target of political attacks from Democrats for his ties to corporate America.

The charges would be nothing new for RNC chairmen.

Racicot — a former Montana governor — came under fire when he refused to give up his corporate clients after he was named RNC head.

Years earlier, GOP heavyweight Haley Barbour faced similar criticism from Democrats when he took the helm of the RNC in 1993.

Barbour, a political mentor to Gillespie, vowed to stop lobbying when he ran the committee but did not do so, exposing him to attacks from Democrats and the media.

In fact, Barbour continues to work for the firm he founded — Barbour, Griffith & Rogers — even as he campaigns for governor of Mississippi.

In 1996, Gillespie served as communications director for the RNC when Barbour was chairman.