GOP senators plan to share Santorum's conference load

Senate GOP leaders and their aides are discussing ways to get more conference members communicating the party’s message next year.

The move is intended to compensate for the fact that Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), Senate Republican Conference chairman, will be engaged in a tough reelection battle and so will have less time for his communications role.

An emerging strategy, discussed at a Senate-House leadership retreat last week, is to take advantage of working groups that rank-and-file Republicans signed up for at the beginning of the session but that, with the exception of the judiciary and energy working groups, have done little work.

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Referring to preparations for next year’s elections, a GOP leadership aide said, “We’re … looking at ways to use existing resources to make sure members who agreed to be spokespeople are working aggressively and to put them out front so they have the spotlight to shape the message.

“The leaders are trying to figure out how that will work and how we’ll go into next year with that structure. Given that the next year is a different kind of year, it’s more important to utilize those groups.”

A second GOP leadership aide said Senate leaders at the retreat, which included a session with House and White House officials, discussed “practical ways to increase member participation and communication and practical ways to coordinate with the House and White House.”

Tactics would be “worked out in the next month” before another retreat at the end of January, the aide said, and commitments have been made to “continue staff-level discussions.”

At the beginning of the 109th Congress, nearly every Republican senator signed up from one of at least 11 working groups assigned to the judiciary, marriage, compassionate conservativism, national security, jobs and the economy, fiscal responsibility, legal reform, energy, education, healthcare and Social Security.

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Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) is a member of the compassionate conservatism, national security, jobs and the economy, fiscal responsibility, energy, education, healthcare and Social Security groups. Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneMcConnell tees up votes on two abortion bills Senate votes to rein in Trump's power to attack Iran As many as eight GOP senators expected to vote to curb Trump's power to attack Iran MORE (R-S.D.) joined the groups assigned to jobs and the economy, fiscal responsibility, energy, legal reform, healthcare and Social Security. Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) belongs to only one group, healthcare.

A notable exception is Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainEleventh Democratic presidential debate to be held in Phoenix Moderate Democrats now in a race against the clock Biden on Graham's push for investigation: 'I don't know what happened' to him MORE (R-Ariz.), who despite having one of the highest media profiles in the Senate has not signed up for any groups. A GOP aide cautioned that this does not necessarily mean McCain does not help advance the party’s message.

The working groups have done little to communicate GOP rationales and accomplishments, say GOP aides familiar with them. The groups working on judicial and energy issues are exceptions. Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony Booker, Cornyn introduce bill to fund school nutrition programs Three Senate primaries to watch on Super Tuesday MORE (R-Texas), a member of the judicial working group, routinely issues press releases rebutting Democratic attacks on nominees, and Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTimeline: Trump and Romney's rocky relationship Key Republicans say Biden can break Washington gridlock Trump awards Medal of Freedom to racing industry icon Roger Penske MORE (R-Utah), another member, has written opinion pieces in defense of nominees.

Santorum, one of the chamber’s chief communicators, will be focused on overcoming a double-digit deficit in the polls in his reelection bid against Pennsylvania state Treasurer Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyDemocratic senators ask FDA to ban device used to shock disabled students Trump under pressure to renew last nuke treaty with Russia Celebrating and expanding upon five years of the ABLE  Act MORE (D).

Santorum has challenged Casey to 10 debates and transferred Robert Traynham from communications director and deputy staff director of the GOP conference to his personal office. GOP conference staff director Mark Rodgers is splitting time between conference operations and the campaign.

Santorum’s campaign is generating momentum. Strategic Vision, a GOP polling firm, reported last month that survey data suggested Casey has lost support while Santorum has maintained his position. Americans for Job Security, a pressure group, recently spent $450,000 on an ad praising Santorum’s Senate work.

Leaders have discussed for months how other lawmakers can share Santorum’s communications load, but discussions have become more urgent with planning for 2006.

GOP leaders lament the scant media interest in writing about their legislative accomplishments and positive developments in the country and in Iraq. News media have instead covered dissension within GOP ranks and conflict with the Democrats.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), Assistant Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony Trump declares war on hardworking Americans with new budget request The Hill's Morning Report — AG Barr, GOP senators try to rein Trump in MORE (R-Ky.) and Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) held a briefing on third-quarter economic growth, but it went largely unreported.