GOP Faces Show Up in Unlikely Places
The Republicans are coming! The Republicans are coming!
Amid the 15,000 delegates, politicians, lobbyists and Congressional aides who have converged in Boston this week are scores of Republican lobbyists who are in town to represent clients ranging from the American Gas Association to the wireless phone industry.
That was GOP lobbyist Mike Regan dancing up a storm at Sunday’s bash at the Roxy nightclub for the conservative Blue Dog Coalition of the Democratic Party; David Rehr, a former Republican House aide and current head of the National Beer Wholesalers Association, throwing down a cold one at Monday’s party at Felt nightclub for Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.); and telecom lobbyist Walter McCormick, a former Republican staffer on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, shooting pool Tuesday night at Kings during a party for Democratic aides on the committee.
“There’s a pretty large contingent of us up here,” said Rehr, who worked for the former Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.) before becoming president of the National Beer Wholesalers Association. “About one-third of the business people up here are Republicans.”
“It definitely feels like an away game,” added Steve Largent, a former Republican lawmaker from Oklahoma who now serves as the chief lobbyist for the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association. “But I feel more welcome in Boston than Derek Jeter.”
For the thousands of Democrats in town this week, these four days are about electing Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) as the next president of the United States and returning Democrats to majority status in Congress.
But for about a hundred Republican lobbyists who made the 450-mile trip from K Street to Causeway Street, it’s just business.
“When you move into the corporate realm, you have to work with all these people so you have to be there,” said Darrell Henry, a lobbyist with the American Gas Association who cut his teeth in GOP politics in New York and California. “For us, it’s not about partisan politics, it’s about the people. One of these two conventions will nominate the next president, so it’s important corporately to be engaged.”
Red Cavaney, the Republican head of the American Petroleum Institute, said that it is “fairly typical that the people who head up trade associations and deal with folks on both sides of the aisle make an effort to go to both conventions.”
“It’s part and parcel with the job,” said Cavaney, who has attended several other Democratic conventions.
Other Republican lobbyists in Boston this week include Dan Danner of the National Federation of Independent Business, Edward Fritts of the National Association of Broadcasters, Ron Kaufman of the Dutko Group and Kerry Knott of Comcast Corp.
Several have drawn inquisitive looks when spotted around town.
“A couple of people looked a little uncomfortable,” said Rehr. “People say: ‘David, is that you?’”
Largent, who was among the most conservative lawmakers during his time on Capitol Hill, said: “I have many friends from Congress on both sides of the aisle, so it really wasn’t a big deal.”
Lobbyists on both sides of the aisle said that there have never been as many Republicans at a Democratic convention in recent memory because there has never been as many Republicans in key lobbying positions before.
The ranks of Republican lobbyists have swelled in the four years since George W. Bush won the White House.
Though the Republican lobbyists in Boston this week insisted that they are here strictly for business, their ranks included several lobbyists who have a strong personal stake in making sure that President Bush remains in office and that the Republican Party retains control of Congress.
Tom Kuhn, the president of the Edison Electric Institute, is a close friend of the Bush family who helped raise more than $100,000 for the Bush-Cheney campaign.
Kuhn spent much of the week helping to host several of the receptions and parties that the nation’s electric utility lobby threw for key Democratic lawmakers, said Jim Owen, an industry spokesman.
Electric utilities have much to lose if voters put Kerry in the White House. The Democratic candidate has promised to make the environment a top priority and as a Senator he led the charge against the industry’s plan to open up protected lands in Alaska to more energy exploration.
Other key Bush allies in Boston include National Mining Association President Jack Gerard, another top White House fundraiser; AT&T lobbyist Jim Cicconi, who has ties to Bush stemming from their Texas roots; and Mitch Bainwol, the top lobbyist for the Recording Industry Association of America who helped write the platform for the Republican convention four years ago.
At least one key K Streeter-to-be stayed far away from Boston, however.
Rep. James Greenwood (R-Pa.) declined to attend a 1,000-person party thrown by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, even though he accepted a job as the chief lobbyist for the biotechnology lobby last week.
Greenwood, who will leave the House later this year after serving out his term, “is a Republican. Why would he attend the Democratic convention?” asked his spokeswoman. “He is a Member of Congress and he doesn’t start at BIO until January.”