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Independent Spending Gurus Key to Battle for House

The battle for House control is already well underway with a key special election later this month in Mississippi's 1st District and another in early May in Louisiana's 6th District.

To that end, both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee have recently established their independent expenditure operations and staffed them up.

The vast majority of spending by these committees now comes in the form of independent expenditures (IEs), which can be made in unlimited amounts on behalf of campaigns with the lone caveat being that the IE staff cannot have any contact with candidates or their campaigns. Independent expenditures typically take the form of television ads but can also encompass polling, direct mail, phone banks and other persuasion tools.

Over the last few election cycles, IE operations have become all the rage at the party committees, with tens of millions of dollars spent through them. Given the amounts of money at stake, the staff entrusted with spending it on behalf of the party are among the most influential figures in determining the House and Senate playing field.

For Democrats, Jon Vogel will leave his position as political director at the DCCC to head up the IE operation. Vogel is in his second cycle with the DCCC, having served as the northeast region political director in 2006.

His deputy will be Katharine Lister, who joins the IE operation straight from a stint at Fund for America -- one of the primary progressive soft-money vehicles operating currently.

Their counterparts at the NRCC IE will be Clinton Key, a longtime party strategist, and Evan Kozlow.

Key, like NRCC Chairman Tom Cole, has long ties to Oklahoma. Elected as state party chairman in Oklahoma in 1989, Key went on to serve as a chief of staff to Gov. Frank Keating (R) during the 1990s. Key came to Washington in the late 1990s to serve as executive director of the Republican Governors Association.

Kozlow came up in the bare-knuckled world of New Jersey politics, managing Rep. Scott Garrett's (R) 2002 victory in the 5th District and then serving as campaign manager for the unsuccessful U.S. Senate bid of state Sen. Tom Kean Jr. (R) in 2006. Kozlow joined the NRCC last year as director of Member Services.

The NRCC and DCCC are already on television in Louisiana's 6th, where state Rep. Don Cazayoux (D) and former state Rep. Woody Jenkins (R) will face off on May 3 to replace Rep. Richard Baker (R).

The NRCC, struggling to keep up financially with its Democratic counterpart, is also on television in Mississippi's 1st with ads hitting Prentiss County Chancery Clerk Travis Childers for his record as a nursing home owner.

The NRCC has spent over $230,000 to date on its independent expenditure efforts in Mississippi and more than $100,000 on Louisiana's 6th. The DCCC has dropped nearly $300,000 in Louisiana but is not yet on the air (or in mailboxes) in Mississippi.

Given the potential size of the national playing field (Democrats insist 75 or more seats could be competitive this year), the respective IE operations for the two committees will be tested like never before. How they perform could determine just how large Democrats' gains will be in the fall.

By Chris Cillizza  |  April 17, 2008; 1:39 PM ET
Categories:  House  
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Next: Democratic Operative Takes on McCain's Age


Leichy, I just had to show you our hyphenated names. Getting excited for our wedding day, and hope we can adopt a "gayby." I think we would be excellent parents, don't you?

Let's talk tonight over wine and truffles.

Posted by: Leichtman-reader | April 18, 2008 8:53 AM | Report abuse

We've talked before about LA-6, which should be bluer than in previous cycles because of all the former New Orleanians who now reside in Baton Rouge, even as LA as a whole is probably now redder because so many D's from NO and the coast left the state.

But MS-1 is unusual. This is a pretty red district (R+10), conservative through-and-through, 70% white, stretching from the suburbs of Memphis to Tupelo to Oxford. Snopes country, if there are any Faulkner fans out there. Jamie Whitten (D) represented the district for some 50 years before Wicker (R) replaced him in '96, but Whitten was one of the old Mississippi Democrats, and chair of Appropriations for years. There's not a lot of post-civil rights federal Democratic Party roots in this district.

Which makes it interesting that Travis Childers is making this race competitive. I don't know much about him or his opponent, but if a D can win an open seat race in a district this red, we could have a wild November to look forward to, even in the deep South.

Posted by: novamatt | April 17, 2008 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Leichtman - Good point. If Hillary were the Dem nom, then the Repubs would be able to boost its fund-raising. She is always a shot-in-the-arm financially.

But Obama's fund-raising prowess plus the ineviatability of his election will keep some GOP donors away as well as get people to vote a Democratic ticket.

Posted by: yellow ledbetter | April 17, 2008 2:59 PM | Report abuse

your posts are totally juvenile and idiotic. Grow Up! Stop Harrasing and Intimidating!

Posted by: Anonymous | April 17, 2008 2:56 PM | Report abuse

The GOP is wasting its time. Democratic House members will be elected in droves, thanks to Obama's coattails.

OBAMA '08!

Posted by: Leichtman | April 17, 2008 2:44 PM | Report abuse

Democrats are clearly looking to push the GOP into as defensive a position as possible in LA-06 and MS-01. Actually, the DCCC just took a huge buy two nights ago -- in both and the NRCC just responded to that of MS-01 last night, but not of LA-06 ( ). That would imply they are giving up on Woody Jenkins.

Also, make sure to check Campaign Diaries's full analysis of all the vulnerable House races rated by order of vulnerability:

Posted by: Dan | April 17, 2008 2:05 PM | Report abuse

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