Senate Staffers Rush to Help in Key Races

Posted October 8, 2010 at 5:11pm

Looking for a top Senate staffer? You might have more luck in West Virginia than on Capitol Hill: Numerous veteran aides from both parties ‘ but Democrats in particular ‘ have decamped in recent weeks to help candidates in some of the tightest Senate races in the country.

Since the Senate adjourned Sept. 29, high-ranking Democratic staffers have hitched up with campaigns in West Virginia, Nevada and other battleground states, while many GOP aides are nervously idling in Washington, D.C., frustrated with their party’s decision to suspend its last-minute get-out-the-vote deployment.

‘We will lose races because of this,’ said one senior Senate GOP aide, referring to the Republican National Committee’s inability to coordinate the traditional 72-hour GOTV effort for House and Senate races. Though its name implies a three-day deployment, in past years Capitol Hill staffers left as soon as Congress adjourned in order to help in tight races.

Democrats are no less eager to help their own candidates, given a persistent enthusiasm gap that most polls show favoring high voter turnout for Republicans.

‘A lot of people want to go out right now,’ one Democratic operative said. ‘The Senate is not in session, and Senators want to be helpful. Part of that is being helpful with staff.’

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is managing Senate campaign deployments from Capitol Hill, declined to say how much money is dedicated to supplying additional staff to campaigns across the country or which states might get more resources. But recent surges in states such as Delaware, where Democrat Chris Coons became the heavy favorite after tea-party-backed Christine O’Donnell won the GOP nomination in September, will likely benefit from an increase in manpower and money.

Saying there was little need or money for the party’s usual GOTV efforts this year, the RNC confirmed to Roll Call a week and a half ago that it would spend its limited resources instead on mailings and other last-minute election efforts. The committee had a relatively paltry $5 million in cash on hand at the end of August.

‘A lot of people would go if there were money, which there isn’t,’ the senior Senate GOP aide said. ‘The GOP 72-hour program is a very good counterweight to the Democrats’ union push. … There are a ton of resources in D.C., people that want to go out. The enthusiasm for [winning] is through the roof.’

Another senior Senate GOP aide said the RNC ‘is correct in that in a lot of these states ‘ Nevada, Washington ‘ early voting decreases the influence of a final 72-hour push. That being said, a deployment program is better than no deployment program. … It’s put pressure on other party [organizations] to set up GOTV programs.’

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has deployed staffers to a number of states, including Nevada, and those operatives have been on the ground for months, sources said.

Another Senate GOP aide said outside groups and state parties ‘are picking up the slack,’ particularly in California, where the state GOP is mobilizing for the gubernatorial race.

GOTV efforts ‘are happening, just not the way it used to be, which was very coordinated,’ the aide said.

Still, some top Republican aides have fled D.C. temporarily for other parts of the country or have switched to campaign-related jobs in the nation’s capital. For both parties, West Virginia and Washington state have been popular destinations.

Josh Holmes, who runs Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Capitol Hill ‘war room,’ took up residence at the NRSC’s D.C. headquarters weeks ago. The Kentucky Republican also lost longtime press aide Jennifer Morris to Washington state GOP candidate Dino Rossi’s campaign in June.

Kevin McLaughlin, the personal office communications director for NRSC Chairman John Cornyn (Texas), is working on behalf of West Virginia GOP candidate John Raese. Laena Fallon, an aide to Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), recently left to help Morris on Rossi’s campaign.

On the Democratic side, Matt Thornton, communications director for Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), was sent to West Virginia to join Gov. Joe Manchin’s campaign, which needed more resources in recent weeks as Republicans continue to tie the popular two-term governor to President Barack Obama and the national Democratic Party.

Rodell Mollineau, the ‘war room’ chief of staff for Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), headed to Las Vegas last week, where his boss is in a fierce race against tea party favorite Sharron Angle. Mollineau is there to perform work in his official Senate capacity, not to help the campaign, Reid’s office said.

The Democratic exodus began months ago: In July, Ty Matsdorf joined Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s Senate campaign, which ran into controversy earlier this cycle after it was discovered that Blumenthal embellished his military record. Matsdorf permanently left his post as communications director for Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to head up north, after previously honing his skills during Baucus’ 2008 re-election and the Arkansas June Democratic primary runoff between Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Lt. Gov. Bill Halter.

Adrianne Marsh, a former press aide to Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), relocated to Denver in April to return to Bennet’s staff as deputy campaign manager. Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) loaned spokeswoman Tara Trujillo to the re-election campaign of Rep. John Salazar (D-Colo.).

A handful of Democratic staffers have flocked to Washington state, where Sen. Patty Murray (D) is vying for a fourth term against Rossi. Julie Edwards, former communications director to Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), became Murray’s campaign spokeswoman in July. Her colleague Alex Glass, previously Murray’s Senate communications director, became the deputy campaign manager in June.

Jeff Bjornstad, a native of Washington state, stepped down as Murray’s chief of staff last year to become the campaign manager.