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, 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.
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