Changes Afoot at the NRCC
Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.) is and will remain the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, but House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) demonstrated this morning at a Conference meeting who's really in charge by announcing a series of changes designed to shake up the campaign arm in the wake of three special election losses in the span of two months (and a financial scandal).
Democratic victories in Mississippi, Louisiana and Illinois special elections had prompted many in the GOP to call for Cole's head or, short of that, for the leadership to make wholesale changes at the committee. After several "frank" meetings with Cole, Boehner announced this morning that:
* The NRCC will now wade into competitive GOP primaries when appropriate. This is a significant shift, as Cole's policy has been to stay out of such contests even when the party believes one candidate would clearly be the best general election bet. In Illinois and Louisiana in particular, Republicans suffered because they fielded a poor nominee. The race to replace retiring Rep. Vito Fossella (R) in New York, which could draw several GOP contenders, could be the first high-profile test of the new policy.
* There will be an "audit" of the three special election losses conducted by two as-yet-unnamed Republican lawmakers, designed to figure out what went wrong and how to avoid repeating those mistakes in the future. This could be an embarrassing exercise for Cole and his top staff, but they agreed to it, likely because they didn't have a choice.
* The party will step up its efforts to establish special fundraising committees for seats with contested GOP primaries occurring late in the season, which will raise cash that will automatically go to the eventual nominees. This fairly common practice will prevent those nominees from starting the general election race at a financial disadvantage after a costly primary. This effort will be led by Rep. Pete Sessions (Texas), who lost to Cole in the race to chair the NRCC for this Congress.
In addition to the changes Boehner announced this morning, the NRCC will be adding Ed Brookover as a consultant, putting a close Boehner ally in the committee's senior leadership. Brookover was political director of the NRCC from 1995 to 1999. He is now at the consulting firm Greener and Hook, where his official bio helpfully notes, "During his tenure at the NRCC, Brookover managed the GOP to upset victories in three key special elections."
This is something of a compromise between Boehner and Cole. Last September, Boehner tried to force Cole to fire his two top aides, Pete Kirkham and Terry Carmack, but Cole held his ground. Those two staffers are still in place, so it's unclear now where Brookover will fall in the pecking order. Also uncertain is the role that will be played by a new 12-member advisory committee established a few weeks ago to help oversee the campaign arm. What is clear is that Boehner and his fellow leaders will play an increasingly larger role in guiding the NRCC's decisions for the rest of the year.
Will any of these changes make a real difference in what is shaping up to be a brutal cycle for the GOP? If they don't, it's possible that neither Boehner nor Cole will be around to pick up the pieces in 2009.
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