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GOP Hopefuls Get Member Mentors

Program Offers Moral Support for Candidates, Not Fundraising Assistance

House Republicans are providing some of their key candidates with valuable assets: friends in high places.

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions
(Texas) tapped Republican Study Committee Chairman Tom Price (Ga.) and Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) earlier this cycle to lead a new mentoring program designed to match candidates who have little experience in the political arena with battle-tested lawmakers.

“What we try to do is [pair candidates] with a [Member who has] regional knowledge of their district or with knowledge of the issues that are important to their district, [or] sometimes it’s a demographic match,” Price said during a recent interview. “We are trying to tailor it so that this person becomes a friend and a guide. It’s like having a buddy.”

Price said Members are encouraged to talk to their candidates “at least once a week” depending on their schedules.

Sessions said many of the candidates involved in the program are running for federal office for the first time, but he stressed their House Republican counterpart is there to provide guidance, not to tell candidates how to run their campaigns.

“We are not doing anything more than meeting with them, listening to them, talking with them, answering questions,” Price said. “We do not run their campaigns.”

Members will lend candidates “ideas on how [House Republicans] operate, what they are getting into, what’s possible [and] how this place works,” Sessions said.

The mentoring program is intended to provide moral support to candidates rather than fundraising support. Republicans have launched several programs to help candidates raise money such as the “Young Guns” initiative.

To further illustrate the mentor-mentee relationship, Sessions cited a recent visit he had with his candidate, Ilario Pantano, the Republican nominee for North Carolina’s 7th district.

Pantano, a veteran and former deputy sheriff, will take on incumbent Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-N.C.) in November.

“He came to my district [recently], and we gave him nothing more than a welcome,” Sessions said, adding that Pantano, a Marine, had a push-up contest with Sessions’ son, Alex. “It’s just like having one of your good friends come into town.”

Josh Grodin, campaign manager for Republican candidate Allen West, described West’s relationship with mentor Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) in similar terms.

West, an Army veteran, is challenging Rep. Ron Klein (D-Fla.) for the second time. Klein defeated West 55 percent to 45 percent in 2008.

Grodin said Kline and West have connected well in part because of their shared backgrounds as lieutenants in the military. Kline served as a lieutenant in the Marine Corps and retired as a colonel. West was a lieutenant in the Army.

“It’s very helpful to have someone he can relate to as a veteran,” Grodin said. “Congressman Kline calls him on a regular basis, and it really is an open communication about anything.”

About 60 candidates participate in the program, but Price and Sessions declined to disclose which other candidates were involved or the names of the Members who were paired with them.

Sessions hinted that the process is very selective on both ends of the mentoring initiative.

“The average member of the caucus was not asked to come be a mentor,” he said, adding that each House Republican involved in the program must be in good financial standing with the NRCC and complete a training course.

Each Member who has completed the course receives a silver elephant pin to designate his status as a mentor, Sessions said, pointing to the one on his lapel.

“It has structure, it has meaning, it has purpose, it has direction,” he said of the mentorship.

While this is the first cycle for the program at the NRCC, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has been running a similar program for its candidates since 2002.

Ryan Rudominer, a spokesman for the DCCC, contended that even if the NRCC program is the same, the results would be different.

“The NRCC tries to copy everything we do, but a copy is never as good as the original, which is why they have suffered so many humiliating special election defeats even with the wind at their backs,” he said. “If the NRCC spent half as much time actually vetting its flawed candidates as it does measuring the drapes and creating all these programs, maybe there wouldn’t be such a growing bipartisan chorus questioning its political competence.”

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