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Dirt Diving for Democrats

The Democratic National Committee has revamped its opposition research team, with a special emphasis on taking aim at the candidates who are seeking the GOP presidential nomination.

Mike Gehrke is the DNC’s new research director, a post he held once before. [IMGCAP(1)]

In the previous cycle, Gehrke served as executive director for the Senate Majority Project, which served as an adjunct to the Senate Democrats’ opposition research operation. Previously, he was the research director for the DNC, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) 2004 presidential campaign, and in the White House under President Bill Clinton.

“As the new research director at the DNC, I’m working to build a party apparatus that can immediately respond to missteps, lies and scandals of the 2008 election cycle, and establish a narrative that our party’s nominee can use when the primary season ends,” Gehrke said in a fundraising appeal to Democratic activists that was e-mailed earlier this week.

Joining him as deputy research directors are Amy Wojcicki and David Schnitzer.

Wojcicki, who previously worked at the DNC from 2000 to 2003, spent last cycle as the research director for the campaign of now-Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who defeated incumbent Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R). She has also logged time with 2004 presidential candidate and retired Gen. Wesley Clark (D) and America Coming Together.

Schnitzer spent the 2006 campaign as research director Sen. Maria Cantwell’s (D-Wash.) re-election effort. Prior to that Schnitzer worked in the research shop of Kerry’s presidential campaign. In 2002, Schnitzer served as research director for Tennessee Senate nominee Bob Clement (D).

Holding the Purser Strings. The Republican National Committee has named Oklahoma native Gretchen Purser as finance director.

According to an RNC release announcing her hiring, Purser has raised more than $250 million for Republican candidates, causes and party committees over the past 15 years.

Before accepting the job as RNC finance director, Purser was in business for herself as a fundraising consultant. Prior to that, she worked for Century Strategies, advising clients on communications, grass-roots campaigning and fundraising.

Also, the RNC now has its legal team in place. Blake Hall has been appointed general counsel, and Sean Cairncross has been promoted to chief counsel. Meanwhile, Tom Josefiak will serve in an “of counsel” and senior legal advisory role.

Hall, an RNC national committeeman for Idaho, currently is a partner at Anderson Nelson Hall Smith. Cairncross, who is charged with supervising the day-to-day operations of the RNC’s legal office, has served as the committee’s deputy counsel since 2004. Josefiak served as chief counsel in the past cycle.

Full Speed Ahead. Greg Speed has joined Envision Communications, a Democratic media and communications consulting firm that launched earlier this year.

Speed, who has been named president of Envision, will continue to work on contract for both Communities for Quality Education and Kelley Drye Collier Shannon, where he freelances as a grass-roots consultant.

Envision was founded this year by Peter Cari, Maura Dougherty and Jennifer Burton, all longtime Democratic media consultants. Speed, who has served previously for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and former Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas), will offer communications and media consulting to Envision’s clients.

Growing More and More Big. GMMB, a Democratic media and political consulting firm, has named Ellen Frawley, J. Toscano and Jacquie Lawing Ebert as partners.

Frawley, a 12-year veteran of GMMB (formerly Greer Margolis Mitchell Burns & Associates), who has led national media campaigns for corporations such as Cisco Systems, previously took a sabbatical from the firm to lead the America Reads Challenge program run by former President Bill Clinton.

Toscano, a media consultant, has produced campaign spots for Democratic Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.) and Byron Dorgan (N.D.), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle (D). Before joining GMMB in 1997, Toscano served as communications director for Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the then-House Democratic Caucus Chairman.

Lawing Ebert handles GMMB’s work for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, providing strategic and media advice. During one period of her career, Lawing Ebert spent six years working for former Sen. Al Gore (D-Tenn.).

A Groundswell of Support. Groundswell Communications, a Democratic consulting firm, has hired Juli-anne Whitney to help the political and public affairs firm break into the world of entertainment.

Whitney has worked as a film industry executive, promoting such films as “Napoleon Dynamite,” “Sideways” and “Garden State.” As a campaign strategist, her résumé includes acting as a liaison between the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and state parties to help elect Democratic candidates in Florida, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.

Whitney served as a campaign and Congressional aide to former Sen. Bob Torricelli (D-N.J.).

Verizon’s Democratic Bonafides. Verizon is beefing up its Democratic reach with the addition of Marie Sylla, who has joined the company as vice president of government affairs. She is taking the lead lobbying House Democrats. Sylla comes to the telecom giant from T-Mobile, where she served as corporate counsel.

And the Winner Is … Carvin/Seder Communications has won three national Telly Awards for television commercials it produced on behalf of 2006 Louisiana Congressional candidate Karen Carter (D).

Carter lost her bid to oust Rep. William Jefferson (D) in Louisiana’s 2nd district.

The awards received by Carvin/Seder were given for an ad campaign that featured children at a spelling bee contest being asked to spell out the words “hypocrite,” “corruption” and “unscrupulous.” Jefferson remains under federal investigation in part because authorities found $90,000 in cash in his freezer.

Carvin/Seder is run by partners Jim Carvin, Karen Carvin Shachat and Deno Seder, and has offices in New Orleans and Washington, D.C.

Tory Newmyer contributed to this report.

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