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NRCC Pushes More Hired Hands

The National Republican Congressional Committee is encouraging its challenger candidates to hire general consultants for the 2010 cycle, as part of an effort to prepare dozens of novice contenders to challenge vulnerable and entrenched Democrats.

Although Republicans have historically employed general consultants more often than Democrats, the NRCC has renewed its push to have candidates employ a dominant political mind this cycle since the party will be playing more offense than defense.

And while bringing on an extra hand can be costly for campaigns, the GOP committee sees value in the extra expense — especially for first-time candidates.

“We believe it’s good for candidates to have another voice to turn to when it comes to campaign decisions,— NRCC spokesman Paul Lindsay said. “General consultants are helpful for that, as well as helping candidates put together what is needed to run successful campaigns.—

The downside of bringing on an extra consultant, especially early in the campaign, is the cost: Some general consultants charge up to $5,000 per month for their advice, although rates vary and many charge much less. In many cases, a general consultant can also provide another service for the campaign such as media, polling, direct mail or fundraising.

“I know that especially at the House level, you can be in a situation in which you have a fairly inexperienced campaign manager,— said Carl Forti, a Republican consultant and former NRCC aide. “A general consultant, or someone who wears multiple hats, can help that manager get up to speed and help with the big-picture strategic thinking.—

When Republicans held the majority in the House, they were working mostly with incumbents, most of whom already had their teams and media/message strategies in place from previous cycles. But now that the committee’s primary duties include recruiting and training new candidates, general consultants are in demand.

“The world has changed on the House Republican side,— said a GOP consultant. “The committee has gone from being an incumbent protection [political action committee], to a challenger-enterprise party committee.—

In other words, the committee often prefers that campaigns have a “big brother— on board, especially for novice candidates. In particular for Republicans, one GOP consultant noted that many first-time candidates are small-business owners who have never run for office before.

“A lot of Republican candidates tend to be business owners, small-businessmen,— said the consultant. “Any time that you have somebody entering the political fray who is a newcomer, it’s mostly helpful to get expert advice. And that expert advice comes from consultants.—

Jason Roe, a general consultant advising House candidates in Illinois, Michigan and Colorado, said he’s noticed the trend, but also said the NRCC has been careful to tell candidates not to bring on general consultants too early in order to save campaign cash.

“This NRCC is being a little more pro-active in making sure that the candidates have the basic infrastructure they need to be successful,— Roe said.

Although many Democratic firms offer general consulting services to candidates, it is not as common a practice as it is with Republicans. Several operatives hypothesized that this could be because the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee heavily advises candidates early on in the cycle. The NRCC, on the other hand, has prided itself this cycle on building a campaign committee that makes decisions based on predetermined benchmarks instead of giving advice or resources to just their most vulnerable Members.

For example, the DCCC encourages campaigns not to hire a press aide until the second quarter of the second year of an election cycle in order to save money.

The DCCC also puts an emphasis on campaigns finding top-flight managers instead of consultants early on in the cycle. Plus, they assure their donors that 90 percent of donations go to helping campaigns get their message out instead of to administrative costs.

But Democratic consultant Brian Smoot, a former DCCC political director, chalked up the difference to a “cultural thing between the two parties.—

Smoot’s firm, 4C Partners, is providing general consulting for state Rep. Cedric Richmond’s (D) bid in Louisiana’s 2nd district and attorney Terri Sewell (D) in Alabama’s 7th district.

“Over a period of time, Republicans have relied on more of a centralized campaign leadership,— Smoot said. “They will look to consultants to take a higher level of organizational role than maybe the Democrats have.—

Many Democratic consultants wear two hats as a general consultant and in their specific expertise, but the notion of a consultant who provides only general services remains mostly a Republican phenomenon. Ed Brookover, a GOP consultant with Greener and Hook, said Democratic firms just operate differently.

“It’s because of the way firms are set up,— Brookover said. “More of the way of the Democratic polling firms and Democratic media firms are set to serve as general consultants.—

Republican pollster Chris Wilson said the general consulting trend goes back several decades, and in many ways Republicans are just returning to their campaign roots.

“It’s a trend that’s getting back to Republicans when we used to win a lot more races,— Wilson said.

Wilson, who said he rarely does general consulting work, cited well-known Republican operatives as examples such as Lee Atwater, Charlie Black and Karl Rove, who also provided direct-mail services when he was a political consultant in Texas in the 1970s and 1980s.

“Some of the legends in our industry just did general consulting,— Wilson added.

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