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Democratic strategist Kristen Hawn and Ali Harden, a former aide in the George W. Bush White House, are launching their own public affairs shop, Granite Integrated Strategies, this week.

The firm will blend communications strategy, advocacy, public relations and media training for corporate clients.

Because both of the founders have worked on political campaigns, the duo said they plan to run the firm in a similar style.

“We’re really taking the campaign model, which is you go out on a campaign, you’re malleable, things change and you have to be able to change when circumstances change,” said Hawn, who most recently served as communications director for the Blue Dog Coalition.

“We want to bridge the gap that exists between the lobbying campaigns and the communications campaigns,” she added.

In addition to her stint with the fiscally conservative Blue Dogs, Hawn worked for the political campaign of Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) and for former Rep. Larry LaRocco’s bid to become Idaho’s lieutenant governor. She also worked with the public relations firm Fleishman-Hillard.

Harden, who began her career in the Bush for President Austin, Texas, campaign office in 2000, did media outreach for first lady Laura Bush. On the Hill, she was communications director for former Rep. Chris Chocola (R-Ind.). Most recently she was with the DCI Group and Public Strategies Inc.

“We see a need, more and more, for the lobbying efforts and public relations efforts to work together in order for campaigns to be successful,” said Harden, an Indiana native whose great-grandmother, Rep. Cecil Murray Harden, was the only Republican woman in Congress from the state.

Even though the two hail from opposite ends of the political spectrum, Harden and Hawn said they’ve been friends since meeting through mutual connections in Austin.

“We can look at an issue from both sides,” Harden said. “The collective experience that we’re bringing to our new firm will be very useful to our clients.”

They declined to name any clients yet but said they intend to grow the firm’s roster of professionals as the clients come onboard. “We never want to be so large that we’re not providing a level of client services that we’re comfortable with,” Hawn said.

Hawn and Harden plan to work on a wide range of issues including energy, health care and fiscal policy.

 “We’re both really excited to be starting this company together,” Harden said. As for the name, Hawn noted, “We wanted a word that symbolizes strength, something strong and solid.”

Bishops’ Battle

President Barack Obama’s fight with the Catholic bishops is not over yet, despite his administration’s attempt to forge a compromise over federal contraception mandates.

The administration’s exemptions for religious institutions are “arbitrarily narrow,” declared a group of leading Catholic bishops in a statement following a high-level administrative meeting in Washington, D.C., last week. The bishops are mulling several options, including legal action, in their fight against new federal health care mandates they say violate their religious liberties.

The bishops will continue their “vigorous work” on several fronts, including “dialogue with the executive branch, legislative initiatives and efforts in the courts to defend religious freedom,” according to a statement released by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The bishops object to part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that requires employers to cover the cost of contraception and other reproductive health services. The law initially included a carve-out for places of worship but not for religious institutions, such as universities and hospitals.

After the bishops objected, the administration last month adjusted to rule so that insurers, not religious institutions, cover the cost of mandated services. But the bishops remain dissatisfied, partly because some institutions provide their own health insurance coverage. The statement from the bishops conference raised concern over “unspecified and dubious ‘accommodation’ for other religious organizations that are denied the exemption.”

Even the administration’s proposed rules for how to implement the health care compromise ruffled feathers. Conservative bloggers faulted the administration for waiting until late Friday afternoon to release its Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which announces that final regulations probably won’t be published until Aug. 1, 2013 ­— conveniently, well after the November elections.

API: Don’t Blame Us

Just as the public — and political — backlash against rising gasoline prices ratchets up, the American Petroleum Institute on Tuesday announced an outline of what the Obama administration should do to curb the escalating costs. The oil and gas lobby also launched a new campaign that will include online advertising, grass-roots organizing and a new website,

The purpose of the effort, API President and CEO Jack Gerard said on a conference call with reporters, is “to answer the misperceptions that are being created.”

The API called on the Obama administration to expand access to domestic energy sources and to take actions such as approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline. “America’s oil and natural gas industry has solutions to the serious energy problems facing this country and the top two concerns of most Americans: getting the economy moving and creating jobs,” Gerard said.

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