K St. holding cards on 2012 primary

Many K Street insiders are close to several of the likely presidential contenders and are waiting to see who will officially jump into the race before showing their cards. 

Lobbyist support for a candidate can be key to a White House hopeful because of their help with fundraising and outreach to members of Congress, as well as the policy and political advice they can offer.

ADVERTISEMENT
Of course, it can be a negative as well. President Obama distanced himself from K Street during his 2008 campaign, refusing to take lobbyists’ political donations. 

Charlie Black, chairman of Prime Policy Group, told The Hill that he has not made up his mind yet. A former senior strategist for 2008 GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), Black said he has given advice to Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, (R) but he has not committed to his potential campaign. 

“He has asked my opinion about things and I was happy to give him my two cents’ worth,” Black said. “I think he would be a great president, but I don’t know if he’s running. I have got a lot of friends who might be running. We will have to see later on this year.”

In fact, Black — a traditional presence on GOP presidential campaigns — said he might sit this White House race out. 

“I might be on the sidelines. I am really too old for these campaigns now,” Black said. “A lot of us are friends with all these people. So until you see who is in and who’s out, it’s hard to make a decision.”

Other Republican lobbyists are still smarting from the last go-around. One who requested anonymity said that he was “still hung over from McCain 2008” and hadn’t considered siding with a particular candidate yet. 

“A lot of the folks here are friends with a number of these candidates. They want to see them make the jump to get in, and then they will get on board,” said another Republican lobbyist. “I expect in the next 60 days that this field will become a lot clearer and that the lobbying folks will make their intentions clear.”

Nonetheless, some on K Street are ready to jump into the presidential waters if called upon. For example, Rick Hohlt of the Hohlt Group would be a supporter of Daniels if he decided to run. 

Hohlt, a powerful player in GOP circles, said he has known Daniels since 1966. The two often worked together as aides during Sen. Dick Lugar’s (R-Ind.) first Senate campaign in 1974. They also worked for Lugar when he was mayor of Indianapolis and later in his Washington Senate office.

“My loyalty and support would be more than just as a Washington political type,” Hohlt said. “He and I have been in far too many political foxholes together over the past 40 years for me not to admire his political skills and to be there for any political effort that he decides he would like to do.”

Hohlt’s wife is also the head of the Indiana governor’s Washington office. 

Daniels is a familiar face in Washington. He was a director of the Office of Management and Budget during George W. Bush’s administration and worked in President Reagan’s White House. 

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R), a former Reagan White House colleague of Daniels’s, is also contemplating running for the White House. Barbour is well-known in the nation’s capital, having run the Republican National Committee (RNC) and co-founded the high-earning lobby firm BGR Group —formerly known as Barbour Griffith Rogers.

Asked about endorsing Barbour, Juanita Duggan, a policy director at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, said, “I have a personal and moral obligation [to back him].”

Duggan is serving on the host committee for a March 2 Barbour Washington fundraiser. Duggan said she worked with Barbour in the Reagan White House and helped fundraise for his campaign to become RNC chairman.

“I have a connection with Haley that goes back 25 years. He would make a fabulous president. In fact, he’s better prepared than most,” Duggan said.

Other Barbour supporters would include Lanny Griffith — a former colleague of Barbour’s at his old lobby shop — as well as former Rep. Bill Paxon (R-N.Y.), with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. 

At Fierce Isakowitz & Blalock, Kirk Blalock — Barbour’s former traveling aide at the RNC — and Don Fierce — friends with Barbour since President Ford’s 1976 campaign — would support the Mississippi governor as well. 

But others at that Republican lobby shop would not all support Barbour’s nascent presidential bid. 

For example, Kirsten Chadwick would support Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) if he decides to run.

Carl Thorsen of Thorsen French Advocacy and John Green of Crossroads Strategies would likewise back Thune.

Peter Krug, a public policy consultant at Wiley Rein, would also be a vocal supporter for Thune’s.

Krug said he would push his lobbyist friends to rally to the senator’s campaign. He predicted Thune could be “the surprise candidate” in 2012 — similar to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) in 2008 — and that Thune would receive “tremendous support” from K Street.

Other lobbyists have said that Thune, a former lobbyist, could expect big support from the influence industry.

Meanwhile, David Urban of American Continental Group and Bill Wichterman of Covington & Burling would lend their support to Rick Santorum should the former GOP senator from Pennsylvania get into the race. 

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) has his own batch of K Street supporters, including Sam Geduldig of Clark Lytle & Geduldig and former Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.) of Clark & Weinstock, who co-chairs Pawlenty’s political action committee and helps with policy advice. 

Erich Mische of the Bockorny Group would also back Pawlenty.

Drew Maloney of Ogilvy Government Relations is handling congressional outreach for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R). In addition, Wayne Berman at Ogilvy is helping Romney with fundraising. And if Romney runs, Bob Marsh of the OB-C Group and Alex Mistri at the Glover Park Group would support him.

Another Romney supporter, Ron Kaufman, chairman of Dutko Worldwide, said the former governor fits the White House bill. 

“When you look at all the people who are running, they’re all good people, but the right person at this time is Mitt,” Kaufman said. “This is going to be about electing someone competent enough to turn this country around. … The person who has that knowledge, that experience, is Mitt.”