Not only is control of the House and Senate on the line Tuesday, but so too are the future careers of lawmakers and their aides, who could find themselves out of a job.
The midterm election losers and their congressional staff members may look to K Street as a possible next step. But if Democrats flip the House, that would mean a slew of Republicans flooding the lobbying market at a time when K Street already takes an increasingly cautious approach to hiring big names.
That would be good for Democrats looking for jobs and not so great for the Republicans on the hunt.
“There will be a number of people who lose their jobs in this election, and that has a trickle-down effect on their staffs,” said K Street headhunter Ivan Adler. “What hurts the hive, hurts the bee. He who controls the gavels in Washington has a great effect on who’s hired on K Street.”
Rich Gold, who leads the lobbying practice at Holland & Knight, said the laws of supply and demand apply.
“It’s likely that supply is going to way outstrip demand,” he said.
That said, “if you are a kind of rock star, or even a good clinch member of Congress who people respected and found helpful and went to frequently, I think you’re likely to be able to find some work and probably have options even,” Gold said.
Salaries, especially for those with Republican ties, may not break any records in the coming months. But hiring managers say that people who overperform once in their jobs can expect financial rewards.
One lawmaker in a toss-up race — 4th term Republican Rep. Jeff Denham of California — could make an easy transition to K Street, hiring managers said, especially for his pro-business views in favor of a comprehensive immigration overhaul. Eleven-term Rep. Pete Sessions, the Texas Republican who chairs the House Rules Committee and is also in a toss-up race, would bring insider savvy to K Street campaigns.
Another lawmaker in an even tougher race is Keith Rothfus of Pennsylvania whose experience on the House Financial Services panel, and his support for rolling back industry regulations, could be a selling point on K Street.
Republicans won’t be the only ones looking for new gigs after the midterm elections.
If Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota loses, she could tout her experience on the Senate Banking panel as well as her record as a moderate who can work across the aisle. Inside Elections with Nathan Gonzales rates her race as leaning in favor of her Republican opponent, Rep. Kevin Cramer.
“Someone who has a reputation of having been an effective legislator that has reached across the aisle and has been able to work in as bipartisan fashion as is possible in recent years, that’s still going to be the K Street type of person,” said Julian Ha, a lobbyist recruiter at Heidrick & Struggles, a global search firm.
Ha added that lawmakers or aides who have held senior roles on important committees “will always be more sought after for their advice, for their name, for the credibility they might be able to lend a law firm or multi-client firm.”
Democratic lobbyist Heather Podesta, who runs the bipartisan firm Invariant, says she expects the postelection job movement to carry on through March. If Democrats win control of the House, current lobbyists may return to Capitol Hill as staffers, spurring along even more job movement on K Street.
Executive branch option
Republicans who find themselves out of work on Capitol Hill may look to the Trump administration, if downtown doesn’t beckon. The executive branch has numerous unfilled spots and is likely to have even more in the coming months as current officials — from senior to junior — depart at the two-year mark.
“So it’s this wild swirl of job-hopping,” Podesta said.
Podesta, though, downplays a partisan approach to hiring at her firm, saying instead her team prioritizes new colleagues who are “smart, team players, hard working. ... What nobody wants is a solo actor, someone who is too partisan, or a bad writer,” she said, after recently surveying her team about what they wanted in new hires.
Kai Anderson, CEO of Cassidy & Associates, takes a similar approach. A Democrat, he said he believes that top GOP staffers on Capitol Hill will find good gigs, even if the other party controls the House.
“I look for people who have solved problems in the past,” Anderson said of his hiring decisions. “That requires that they have a network or web of connections that is strong and relevant to what they would be working on. And we’ve placed a very strong emphasis on hiring people who have substantive experience.”
Though Cassidy in the past had hired former lawmakers, Anderson says they aren’t what they’re seeking now. But staffers should take heart.
“If I were a House Republican and my boss were to lose, I shouldn’t be panicked,” Anderson said.
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