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King of the Hill Redux?

By Chris Cillizza and Erin P. Billings ROLL CALL STAFF Seeking to boost morale and lend credibility to their efforts to gain House seats in the 2004 election, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee officials are talking to media consultant Tom King about becoming the organization’s political director.

King, who is currently a partner at the media firm Fenn & King, is considered one of the top House strategists in the party and previously served as DCCC political director in the 1986 cycle. His hiring would deliver the message that Democrats are serious and committed to picking up House seats this cycle, several strategists said.

King has been partners with Peter Fenn since 1987; he has worked as a consultant for Reps. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and David Obey (D-Wis.) as well as former Rep. David Bonior (D-Mich.) during that time.

King did not return a call for comment by late Friday, as Roll Call was going to press.

Because King has not committed to taking the job, a number of other operatives are being seriously considered for the slot, including EMILY’s List political tracker Chris Esposito, media consultant Chris Klose, former Al Gore national field director Donnie Fowler, and 2002 DCCC field director Cathy Duvall.

While these are the names most often mentioned, several other candidates are being considered, according to sources close to the staffing.

The race for communications director is significantly more clear, as Kori Bernards, press secretary to Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), is the frontrunner.

“Kori is a very strong contender,” said a source directly familiar with the process. “There are other people, but she is a very strong favorite.”

Several Democratic insiders said Bernards has been offered the DCCC spokesperson slot but has yet to accept it. Bernards wouldn’t confirm Friday whether she was on the inside track for the job. 

If she decides to take the position, she would succeed Jenny Backus, who left the committee to do consulting work.

Gephardt, who is running for president in 2004, stepped down as Minority Leader last fall. Bernards has continued to work for him in his personal office.

Both Hill and political Democratic sources said Bernards is weighing whether to take the DCCC job or work on Gephardt’s presidential campaign.

Jim Bonham, chief of staff to DCCC Chairman Robert Matsui (Calif.), will serve as the committee’s executive director.

Top-level staffing at the National Republican Congressional Committee is complete as chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) has chosen to largely retain the successful team from the 2002 election.

Political Director Mike McElwain and Communications Director Steve Schmidt, who helped engineer Republicans’ six-seat pickup last fall, will serve in the same capacity for the new NRCC leadership. Reynolds Chief of Staff Sally Vastola is taking over as executive director.

Former executive director John Hishta has moved to K Street, as senior vice president of legislative affairs at ACS.

On the Senate side, fewer staff decisions have been made.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee will be headed by Andy Grossman, who served as political director in the 2002 cycle and as a deputy executive director in 2000. Grossman replaces Jim Jordan, who has left to manage the presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).

Diana Rogalle will stay on as finance director, the position she held during the 2002 cycle. No other hires have been made at the committee, although DSCC Chairman Jon Corzine (N.J.) said in an interview Jan. 21 that there will be “a pretty complete picture” on the staff front within six to eight weeks.

At the National Republican Senatorial Committee, new Chairman George Allen (Va.) has brought over his Chief of Staff Jay Timmons to serve as executive director. Dan Allen, who served as NRSC press secretary last cycle, will be installed as communications director.

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