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Warner Is Latest Democrat to Place Staffer in N.H.

Mark Warner's Forward Together political action committee is funding a staff position for the New Hampshire Senate Democratic caucus, the latest sign that the former Virginia governor is laying the groundwork for a 2008 presidential bid.

Forward Together made a contribution to the Senate caucus, which provided the group sufficient resources to hire a staffer charged with research and communications. Warner's PAC recommended Audra Tafoya to fill the slot; Tafoya has been on the job for two weeks, according to Warner aides.

Prior to moving to New Hampshire, Tafoya mainly honed her skills in the Old Dominion. She served as deputy campaign manager for state Del. Steve Shannon, who won a northern Virginia open-seat race in 2003 in a district that was carried by President Bush in 2000.

Tafoya went on to serve as research director for Rep. Allyson Schwartz's (D) successful campaign for the open 13th District of Pennsylvania in 2004. Following that election, Tafoya returned to Virginia where she served as legislative assistant to state Del. Brian Moran (D).

Warner is not the first potential Democratic presidential candidate to place one of his own in New Hampshire. Sen. Evan Bayh's (Ind.) All America PAC is bankrolling the salary of Sean Downey, who is also working for the New Hampshire Senate Democratic caucus, serving as the finance chairman. (New Hampshire's premier political columnist -- John DiStaso -- broke the news in his "Granite Status" column.) A Bayh loyalist noted that the Indiana Senator will be training roughly 50 activists for 2006 campaigns through his "Camp Bayh" program.

The two men who led the Democrats' 2004 ticket -- Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) and former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) -- have also paid the salaries of operatives involved in New Hampshire campaigns. Kerry's Keeping America's Promise PAC paid for Geoff Wetrosky to work on the reelection bid of Manchester Mayor Bob Baines -- a race he lost last November. (Wetrosky is now working on the Democratic coordinated campaign in Massachusetts.) Edwards' One America Committee continues to finance the salary of Angie Siecker, who is working for the New Hampshire Senate Democrats with specific emphasis on state Sen. David Gottesman's reelection bid this fall. (I wrote about those two staffers for Roll Call. Read my piece here if you have have a subscription -- and you should -- to my alma mater.)

Paying a staffer's salary is one of a number of ways that presidential candidates can curry favor with party insiders well in advance of New Hampshire's (still) first-in-the-nation primary. Unlike simply making a contribution to the state party or a state legislative candidate, placing a staffer in the state pays considerably more long-term dividends. That person can serve as an eyes and ears for the candidate while also gaining experience in the ins and outs of the state's political scene.

Since late last year, Warner has been perhaps the most active of the potential 2008 Democratic candidates: Forward Together has raised more than $5 million since its inception last summer; the governor has hired more than 20 staffers; and he has traveled all over the country (including well-received trips to New Hampshire and South Carolina) and the world to raise his profile.

Yesterday, Warner delivered the commencement address at Wake Forest University, preaching a message of bipartisan cooperation. "We have too much crossfire but not enough crosstalk," said Warner. "No one in politics has a monopoly on virtue, on patriotism, or, most importantly, on truth."

By Chris Cillizza  |  May 16, 2006; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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