Hill Climbers: The GOP’s New Ground

Posted October 16, 2009 at 5:03pm

The GOP’s New Ground. The Senate Republican Conference was a place of leadership shuffles this summer with the resignation of Sen. John Ensign (Nev.) as Policy Committee chairman. Several months out from the promotion of Sen. John Thune (S.D.) to Policy Committee chairman and the election of Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) to vice chairwoman, a relative sense of youth hasn’t been the only game-changer in the Conference.

[IMGCAP(1)]Murkowski has sought to use her position to infuse the conference with a new mission. She has formed a leadership team that includes a focus on women and diverse groups.

But as with any good team, message is key. For that, Murkowski has enlisted a media veteran, Christine Mangi, who began as the vice chairwoman’s communications director in August.

Mangi, 31, brings experience in television journalism, public affairs and the federal government. But she also brings a healthy dose of excitement over the Conference’s new direction.

“The new focus of the vice chair’s office is to collaborate with women and minorities on issues such as health care, energy and the environment,—

Mangi said. “Sen. Murkowski is trying to use the office to reach out to groups that the Republican Party hasn’t traditionally reached out to. … She really wants to demonstrate the party’s inclusiveness. This is new ground for the GOP.—

[IMGCAP(2)]Mangi was the first staffer hired to be on Murkowski’s leadership team. She said her past two months on the job have “been like starting entirely from scratch.— And as additional positions in the leadership team continue to fill, the conference is still adjusting. “We all have been getting our sea legs,— Mangi said.

Before moving to Capitol Hill, Mangi served as press secretary for the Small Business Administration from 2007 to 2009 under President George W. Bush. That job did not let up until the Obama administration assumed power and was like a “sprint to the finish,— Mangi said.

“I really needed some down time after that,— she said. “I took about a month to decompress and then began consulting a bit on the side.—

Exhausted as she was after the end of the Bush administration, Mangi was not quite ready to give up on politics. She kept her eyes open for “the first unique opportunity,— and then she heard about the openings in Murkowski’s leadership team.

Mangi didn’t start immediately in politics. A 2000 graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Mangi put her journalism degree to good use as a television reporter after college. But after spending a year working for the NBC affiliate in Eau Claire, Wis., Mangi found that the pace of the job was unsuitable.

“I remember spending a whole day preparing a report, only to be called to cover a fire on the other side of town,— she said. “I thought I was prepared for the low wages and jumping from market to market, but eventually I found that the job’s requirements didn’t match my personality.—

Mangi transitioned to a small public affairs firm in Milwaukee in 2001. While she worked at the firm, Mangi’s interest in politics grew. And fortunately for her, working in public affairs allowed her to meet many of Wisconsin’s political players.

In 2005, Mangi made her first jump into politics as communications director for the Republican Party of Wisconsin. “At first, the job was a little difficult to adjust to,— she said. “Not so much because of its pace, but more so because of its aggressiveness. I had been used to being on the other side of the story.—

Working for the Wisconsin GOP made Mangi certain that she eventually wanted to come to Washington, D.C. And nine months into the job, Mangi thought she found a way.

“Then-Speaker of the state Assembly, John Gard, asked me to be his communications director,— Mangi said. “I subsequently held the same role in his 2006 campaign for Congress. At that point, I really thought I might have my ticket to the Hill.—

The 2006 election cycle was not kind to Mangi’s plans. Gard suffered a “heartbreaking— 2-point loss to now-Rep. Steve Kagen (D). With that loss, Mangi thought her chance to come to Washington had vanished.

But as it turned out, luck made another way. In the aftermath of the 2006 elections, Mangi’s name came up for several jobs with the Bush administration. Mangi said she chose the position of SBA press secretary because it allowed for “the most responsibility.— From there, it was a natural path to the Republican Conference.

Outside of work, Mangi is an “avid— and “fanatical— runner. Mangi has completed four marathons and is gearing up to run in this weekend’s Marine Corps Marathon. “I did my first marathon in college, and each one after that has supposedly been my last,— she said.

But a more surprising personal fact is her family’s politics. Mangi’s parents and extended family are all Democrats. Because of that, Mangi said holidays back in Wisconsin rarely center on political discussions. “I would rather enjoy the time than argue,— she said.

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