Thune Keeping K Street

Murkowski to Focus Outreach On Grass Roots

Posted July 20, 2009 at 6:34pm

Despite taking on a larger role in crafting the GOP’s legislative and policy strategy, recently installed Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Thune (S.D.) is keeping the bulk of his K Street outreach portfolio.

Thune, who was assigned in January with stepping up the GOP’s outreach to K Street, is handing off a small portion of his liaison responsibilities to his successor in the Conference’s No. 2 job, Vice Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).

Thune will continue to take the lead for Senate Republicans on meeting with business lobbyists, trade groups and conservative issue-advocacy organizations, according to his spokesman, Kyle Downey.

That’s in addition to the influential Policy Committee chairmanship, which involves producing policy papers and providing in-house cable television coverage of Senate floor action.

Murkowski will focus on outreach to female, minority and grass-roots organizations in order to open up a dialogue on issues such as education, health care and jobs.

“Sen. Murkowski believes that the Republican Party can do better to reach out to these groups,— Murkowski spokesman Michael Brumas said.

Thune and Murkowski were promoted late last month to chairman of the Republican Policy Committee and vice chairwoman of the Senate Republican Conference, respectively, following Sen. John Ensign’s (Nev.) resignation as policy chairman after he admitted to having an affair with a former campaign staffer.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Thune and Murkowski had been in discussions since then over how to proceed with K Street outreach, making the final decision on how to divide the responsibilities last week, according to Downey.

[IMGCAP(1)]“This compliments each of their strengths,— said Republican lobbyist Eric Ueland, a former chief of staff to then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) who is now at the Duberstein Group.

Both Thune and Murkowski have long been seen as headed for GOP leadership positions. Thune has been viewed as a rising star since his historic defeat of former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D) in the 2004 election.

Murkowski, who was appointed to the Senate in 2002, has been attending leadership meetings as a counselor to McConnell. She has also had a quick rise in the Senate.

The Conference chairman has traditionally been responsible for interacting with downtown, but when Thune became vice chairman, he and Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), along with McConnell, decided to give many of those K Street outreach duties to the Conference vice chairman.

Alexander has thus been in charge of message strategy, while Thune as vice chairman had handled the party’s outreach efforts.

Thune spokesman Downey said the decision to divvy up K Street outreach will help the GOP have further reach.

“There are lots of groups out there that we need to be talking to. This is a way to cover more ground,— Downey said.

After more than a decade in the majority, Congressional Republicans have long been close to K Street.

But communicating with the business community with an eye on maintaining alliances bolstered during the Bush administration is even more important now that they are in the minority, according to GOP lobbyists.

The GOP’s concerted K Street effort is important in order to make sure “folks downtown know what the message is and what they are trying to achieve,— according to Hazen Marshall, a former chief of staff to then-Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.) who is now at the Nickles Group.

In recent years, Senate Democrats, led by Senate Majority Leader Hearry Reid (D-Nev.), have tried to push back against Republicans’ K Street dominance, putting business groups on notice that Democrats are now the party in charge.

In addition to Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), chairwoman of the Steering and Outreach Committee for the Democratic Conference, Reid has also recently tapped freshman Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) to reach out to the business community.

Democratic lobbyists say Warner’s business background makes him more “user friendly— to K Street.

Thune is also well-received downtown, according to several Republican lobbyists.

“He has established himself with the business community,— said one former Senate staffer, who is now a contract lobbyist. “He’s taken the role of listening and trying to understand how policy being shaped up on the Hill adversely affects companies.—

It’s unclear who will lead Thune’s K Street effort at the staff level. Stephen Replogle, Thune’s coalitions director since January, left recently to join Wal-Mart’s government relations team.

The office is still deciding whether it has the capability in-house or whether it needs to replace Replogle, according to Downey.

Murkowski is close to making her staff announcements, according to her spokesman.