Democrats see their stock rise on K Street

Democrats see their stock rise on K Street
© Greg Nash

The job outlook for Democrats appears to be brightening on K Street, with Washington’s law and lobby firms keeping a close eye on the possibility of a wave election that shifts the balance of power in Congress.

Recent polling suggests that many of the House districts where Republican members have historically been safe bets for reelection could turn blue in November, raising the possibility of Democrats winning the lower chamber for the first time in eight years.

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It’s also not out of the question that Democrats take back the Senate, though it’s an uphill climb due to the seats in play.

Still, with the political winds shifting, lobbying firms and the Washington offices of industry groups could soon find themselves on the market for new hires with Democratic connections.

“If it were me, I would be trying to figure out who on the House Democratic floor staff can I hire on the kinda-sorta cheap, as opposed to having to pay them $500,000 in January,” one Republican lobbyist said. “That’s what people are going to be looking at.”

While K Street offices vary in their hiring strategies, those looking for an edge may be planning ahead by hiring strategists who can help clients navigate a Democratic majority in one or both chambers of Congress.

There are roughly six months until the midterm elections, which means such planning is still in the early stages.

“These things kind of happen in a bell curve,” said Ivan Adler, a K Street headhunter. “They start out slowly with people talking and saying, ‘Hey, Ivan, if you hear of any good Democrats, we’d be interested in them.’ ”

“And then it reaches, ‘OK, Ivan, we need Democrats and we need them now,’ ” he said, laughing.

Adler said employers are not quite at the stage where they’re ready to “hedge their bets” in anticipation of a Democratic sweep of the House or Senate, “though there is more talk in that area than there has been in a long time.”

In 2009, when former President Obama entered the Oval Office, his administration sent the earnings of Democratic-leaning firms skyrocketing.

At the time, Democrats held the House and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, which helped make the passage of ObamaCare possible.

But those gains all came crashing down in the next two midterm elections.

A GOP wave in 2010 ushered in a Republican-controlled House; then, in the 2014 midterm elections, Republicans took back the Senate, where Democrats had dominated since 2007.

The result is a long period of dominance for Republicans in Washington that may have crested in 2016 with the election of President TrumpDonald John TrumpWhite House counsel called Trump 'King Kong' behind his back: report Trump stays out of Arizona's ugly and costly GOP fight Trump claims he instructed White House counsel to cooperate with Mueller MORE and an all-Republican Congress.

“There’s a lot of built-up ambition on the side of Democrats to run K Street again,” Adler said.

Even if Democrats manage to wrestle control of either — or both — chambers, the Trump administration will still be trying to drive its priorities through Congress. That could set the stage for a new period of dealmaking.

“If you have a shift in power, you’re going to have an opportunity for a lot more activity than you did in the last year, year and a half,” said Al Mottur, a Democratic lobbyist at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. “If you look back to the … George W. Bush administration, a lot of stuff got done when you had a Republican administration and a Democratic Congress.”

Several other lobbyists noted that Democrats gaining power may entice some staffers to stay in their jobs, and could even lure some Democratic lobbyists back to Capitol Hill.

“If you see there is a chance things are going to change, most of those people are driven by the attraction of being able to drive the shift. You can’t do that if you leave the Hill,” another Democratic lobbyist told The Hill. “This is the dream come true. If you’re ascending on staff in Democratic positions, this is your chance to do stuff.”

Should Democrats fail to win back the House or Senate but keep the GOP majorities narrow, Republicans would still need to court their support to move nearly any piece of legislation.

“To me it’s like the stock market. I think the market is already overcorrected for Democrats,” said a second Republican lobbyist. “I think built in to hiring assumptions is the House is going to go Democratic, which I agree with, and that the Senate may flip. Right now there’s largely a hiring freeze on Republicans and Democrats are in demand.”

Historically, Democrats are less likely to leave the government and head to lobbying jobs that involve representing corporate interests. While the revolving door is bipartisan and scores of former Democratic aides have transitioned to K Street, others opt to stay in government or go to nonprofit or political groups.

“In my experience, Democrats operate very differently from Republicans, so I’ve never seen the mass migration from the Hill to downtown,” said Mike Williams, a former Clinton administration official and principal at The Williams Group.

“The folks who are there tend to stay, and the folks who leave have been there a long time,” he said.

Some of the firms who have recently brought on Democrats told The Hill that the hires are coincidental and have nothing to do with the midterm elections. Lobbyists at many other firms echoed that sentiment, saying they are always looking for talented people, regardless of party.

“Having seen the pendulum swing back and forth during my time in D.C., I take a much longer-term view of things, and we end up hiring counter-cycle sometimes,” said one former Democratic leadership staffer on K Street who asked for anonymity to talk about business decisions.

“There may be a stupid bidding war over a couple of folks in December, which is good for them, but we’ll see.”