Staff Hunt Starts For 2010 Cycle

Posted November 18, 2008 at 6:51pm

By the end of this week, at least three of the four Congressional campaign committee chiefs for the 2010 election cycle should be formally installed.

While they won’t officially assume their new jobs until January, speculation over who will fill the top staff leadership roles at the committees is already swirling.

On the House side, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) is the only known holdover from the 2008 cycle among the four party campaign chiefs. Van Hollen’s agreement to serve another term will likely result in a high staff retention rate, although at this point it remains unclear how many of the committee’s top aides will be persuaded to stay.

DCCC Executive Director Brian Wolff, a close confidant of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) who has been at the committee since 2002, has yet to decide whether to stay on for another grueling two years. Political director Brian Smoot and communications director Jennifer Crider, a former Pelosi aide, also have yet to commit to a return engagement. Since outgoing Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) chaired the DCCC in the 2006 cycle, the committee has made a more concerted effort to increase staff continuity between cycles.

At the National Republican Congressional Committee, Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) is fighting to keep his job as he faces a challenge from Rep. Pete Sessions (Texas). Sessions, who has the strong backing of Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), is favored to win that contest in today’s GOP Conference vote.

If Sessions wins, his personal office chief of staff, Guy Harrison, is widely expected to assume the executive director job at the committee, as has been customary for previous NRCC chiefs.

Some party insiders have griped privately in the past about Harrison’s demeanor and style, and some believe that his presumed ascension to executive director was one factor in Sessions’ unsuccessful bid to become chairman of the NRCC at the beginning of the 2008 cycle.

Until the chairman is decided, other key positions at the committee remain up in the air. Communications director Karen Hanretty has already accepted a job at a public relations firm and will be leaving, and press secretary Ken Spain could potentially ascend to replace her.

NRCC deputy political director Brian Walsh and incumbent retention director Bob Honold are also mentioned among the possible holdovers in senior level staff.

But one thing that does seem certain is that Boehner is expected to exert more influence over NRCC staffing decisions. His endorsement of Sessions and aggressive campaigning on the Texan’s behalf are indications that the Minority Leader is looking to take a greater ownership stake in the committee in the 2010 cycle.

Even if Cole were to somehow pull out a victory today, it would appear all but certain that Boehner and other GOP leaders would push for him to make substantial staff changes in the ranks of top staff at the NRCC. The performance of executive director Pete Kirkham and political director Terry Carmack has been a major source of friction in the rocky relationship between Cole and Boehner this cycle, another reason Boehner is hungry to have more influence over who holds those posts.

While there will no doubt be a good number of staff changes if Sessions succeeds Cole, the turnover is not expected to be as massive as it was after the 2006 elections, when the committee staff essentially cleared out at the end of then-Chairman Tom Reynolds’ (R-N.Y.) tenure and Cole was left to rebuild essentially from scratch.

For Republicans on the Senate side, the campaign committee transition is more set.

The Senate GOP voted Tuesday, as expected, to elevate Sen. John Cornyn (Texas) to the chairmanship of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Cornyn immediately announced that he had hired his campaign manager from his 2008 re-election race, Rob Jesmer, as executive director of the committee.

Republican sources said Tuesday that Cornyn and Jesmer have made no other hiring decisions as of yet, although a premium has been placed on naming a political director and a finance director as soon as possible. Cornyn’s personal office communications director, Brian Walsh (no relation to the other Walsh), could be in the mix to move over to the NRSC press shop.

Jesmer’s résumé includes stints as political director for the southeast region at the Republican National Committee and field director at the NRCC during the 2002 cycle.

“I am very impressed with the political acumen, intelligence and work ethic that Rob displayed in managing my recent re-election victory,” Cornyn said in a statement released by the NRSC. “Those qualities, coupled with his extensive leadership experience working on campaigns across the country, will be an invaluable asset for the NRSC moving forward.”

Meanwhile, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s staffing for the 2010 election cycle is somewhat in flux given the delay in deciding who will run the committee over the next two years.

Should Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.) eventually take over for two-term DSCC Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.), as is widely expected, look for his chief of staff, Daniel O’Brien, to move over to DSCC headquarters in the Mott House on Maryland Avenue Northeast and assume a senior position.

Matthew Miller, the communications director at the DSCC under Schumer during the 2008 cycle, might be persuaded to stay on given that he worked for Menendez in the House and on his 2006 Senate race and is in the New Jerseyan’s inner circle.

David M. Drucker contributed to this report.