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Battle of the Press Shops

Two of the leading Democratic candidates for Senate in Illinois have tried to score insider points in recent days by touting new members of their press teams.

Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes recently sent out a release announcing his decision to hire Chris Mather as communications director.

Mather has years of campaign experience. Most recently, she was a consultant for Progressive Majority, a national political action committee that works to elect liberal candidates, and in the previous cycle she managed two Congressional campaigns in Illinois. She has also been a deputy political director for NARAL Pro-Choice America and managed NARAL’s Illinois office.

On the same day, businessman Blair Hull — who previously scored a coup by hiring veteran operative Mo Elleithee to be his communications director — announced that three more people had joined his press shop.

Susan Lagana, the new press secretary, was press secretary to 2002 Democratic Senate nominee Erskine Bowles in North Carolina. She has also worked for politicians in Georgia and as a journalist for CNN.

Jim O’Connor, the deputy communications director, is a veteran of Illinois politics, having worked for Wilhelm & Fonlon, a public affairs firm headed by former Democratic National Committee Chairman David Wilhelm, a Chicagoan.

The new deputy press secretary, Virginia Lam, worked as a spokeswoman for the DuPage (Ill.) County Democrats in 2002 and is also a former spokeswoman for the New York City Fire Department.

Hynes and Hull are two of a half-dozen Democratic candidates in what has become an open-seat race to replace retiring freshman Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R).

A New Leif. Veteran producer Leif Larson has joined Republican media powerhouse Todd & Castellanos Creative Group LLP.

Brad Todd, president of TCCG, said the firm will look to Larson to expand its client base in California and the West Coast. Larson is a native Californian who has worked for then-California Gov. Pete Wilson (R) and two Members from the Golden State: Rep. Elton Gallegly (R) and former Rep. Andrea Seastrand (R).

Larson spent the 2000 and 2002 cycles with Russo Marsh Copsey and Scott.

TCCG is a National Media Inc. company.

A Winner Joins a Winning Team. Jim Crounse, a veteran Democratic direct-mail professional and political operative, has joined one of the top direct-mail firms in the country, Winning Directions, as a senior political strategist and vice president.

For the past seven years, Crounse had been president of Crounse, Malchow, Schlackman & Hoppey, a Democratic direct-mail firm that broke up in late 2002 after serving dozens of candidates and officeholders. Crounse, a native of Nebraska who has a law degree from Creighton University, is a former chief of staff to Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.).

Based in San Francisco, Winning Directions is a 14-year-old firm with an office in Washington, D.C., which is where Crounse will work.

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss? The New Mexico Democratic Party last week elected Santa Fe businessman Bill Sisneros to be its new chairman. He replaces another businessman, Jamie Koch, who resigned to become a regent of the University of New Mexico.

Sisneros, who is close to new Gov. Bill Richardson (D), is a former Santa Fe city manager who was chairman of the Santa Fe County Democratic Party. He and his wife own a high-end fitness club in Santa Fe.

Koch and Sisneros were both founders of Santa Fe Tomorrow, a pro-business group that sought to influence city and state elections in the early and mid-1990s.

Sisneros is hoping to inaugurate a presidential nominating caucus in New Mexico on Feb. 3, 2004 — the same day that neighboring Arizona will hold a presidential primary.

That’s the Buzz. Having thrown a reception last week at the trendy sushi bar Dragonfly to celebrate its launch, the Bellwether Consulting Group, is getting down to business.

The firm has already signed up major clients, including Rep. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who is running for Senate, Reps. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) and Randy Forbes (R-Va.), and Pennsylvania state Sen. Charlie Dent (R), who is running for the seat now held by exiting Rep. Pat Toomey (R).

Bellwether’s principals, Monica Notzen and Dana Graham Harris, both have close ties to Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.). Notzen was PAC director and national field director of the National Republican Congressional Committee for part of Davis’ two-cycle tenure as the committee’s chairman, and Harris was Davis’ chief fundraiser.

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