By Silla Brush and Jim Snyder – 01/20/10 09:22 AM ET
Republicans are crowing about the potential for major political gains this year, and that has some GOP lobbyists striking out on their own.
At least five new lobbying firms have opened their doors recently with either a single Republican lobbyist or a handful of prominent GOPers in charge.
It’s a sharp contrast to the last four years, when all-Republican firms scrambled to hire Democrats to claim the mantle of bipartisanship. Prominent Democratic lobbyists like Tony Podesta and Steve Elmendorf saw their stock soar, with huge gains in revenue and plenty of new clients.
While Democrats control the House, Senate and White House, the bleak economy and contentious healthcare debate have turned public opinion decidedly sour.
The tight race for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s (D-Mass.) seat, the losses in the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial campaigns and the president’s declining approval ratings indicate a tough election year for Democrats.
GOP lobbyists said the potential for greater Republican power was not the primary factor for striking out on their own. But the thought of a redder Washington wasn’t lost on them.
“The political environment was not a reason not to do this. It feels like we are coming out of the woods. But I didn’t give a whole lot of thought about how to position myself to capitalize on the gains we might make in November,” said Carl Thorsen, who founded the Thorsen Group.
Before becoming a lobbyist, Thorsen was general counsel to then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas). Thorsen worked previously as a lobbyist at the American Continental Group, where he worked with former Democratic aides to Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.).
The other new firms are: Missy Edwards Strategies, Coffee & Associates, the Capitol Group and Crossroads Strategies LLC.
“It seems to be such a pattern on the Republican side that you can’t help but think that it has something to do with the political time that we’re living in,” said a Republican lobbyist. “It’s either that or there has been a sudden burst of entrepreneurial enthusiasm on one side of the aisle.”
Several have left bipartisan firms to strike out on their own, following the example of some Democrats — including Elmendorf, who set up shop shortly after his party retook the congressional majority in 2006.
Missy Edwards said she would continue to work with Democrats in her new job just as she did at Clark & Weinstock. Before becoming a lobbyist, Edwards worked at the National Republican Senatorial Committee and for Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) presidential bid.
“I do think it is a good time for Republicans. Clearly, you can look at my background. There is no question — my background, the clients that I work for and intend to work for, that’s what they would hire me for,” Edwards said.
John Green, Stewart Hall and James Baker have already left or will leave Ogilvy Government Relations to start the Crossroads firm. Ogilvy had its roots in the old all-Republican Federalist Strategy Group before becoming a Top 10 bipartisan shop.
The three lobbyists are prominent Republicans, although they may, at some point, hire a Democrat to join their firm.
The lobbyists starting their own one-person shops said they had personal and professional reasons for striking out on their own.
Harriet Melvin, who worked for 10 years at Quinn Gillespie & Associates before starting the Capitol Group, said the political climate played little or no role in her decision. She said she wanted the personal flexibility and had built up a strong set of clients.
But she did take notice of the new Republican shops and the strong potential for new business.
“My parents probably were wondering the same question,” she said.