A Wave for GOP Staffers?

A glance at the Republican job bank page on Texas Rep. John R. Carter’s website paints the whole, bleak picture with what it doesn’t show: real jobs.

So far, the only postings this month for paid employment have been for a staff assistant job in the office of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and a scheduler/office manager position with Rep. Timothy V. Johnson (R-Ill.).

It’s only going to get worse after the election, when a flood of GOP résumés will hit the streets, the result of retiring GOP lawmakers, election losers and an outgoing Republican administration.

Indeed, trying to find a job in a Republican congressional office is already beginning to approximate a rigged game of “Press Your Luck.” And finding comparable employment at the typical next-stop political shops off Capitol Hill has become increasingly gloomy for GOP-ers, as well.

“I think everyone understands the reality of how competitive it will be,” said Lori Rowley, chief of staff to retiring Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio).

Consider the abounding whammies:

Twenty-six Republican congressmen are retiring at the end of this session, and expectations are that Democrats will pick up at least that many seats on Tuesday. If the average congressional office has 14 to 18 full-time staffers (plus paid interns and part-timers), that’s a couple of hundred job opportunities that could soon vanish in electoral smoke.

The average Senate office has 34 staffers, and with polls showing Democrats poised to take anywhere from five to 10 of those seats, that could be an additional 150 to 300 Republican Hill jobs gone the way of the dodo bird. Scores of Republican committee staff slots would also get wiped out, too, as the GOP would control a smaller portion of the committee personnel budgets in both chambers.

Of course, with fewer Republicans on the Hill, there are fewer needs for lobby shops to refill their GOP cartridges.

“It’s a double-whammy,” said Brad Traverse, whose staffing website, www.bradtraverse.com, is a popular destination for job seekers on the Hill. “You have more firms who are both looking for Democrats and eliminating the Republican lobbyist positions. And from what I’ve heard talking to people is there’s a kind of a dearth of good, qualified Democrats to take some of these lobbying jobs.”

Younger staffers may have an easier time matching their $30,000 to $50,000 salaries elsewhere, but senior chiefs of staff making six-figure incomes will find it quite difficult to replicate that pay as Republican operatives in a Democratic town during an economic downturn.

“This is a very bad time to be looking,” one House aide said on the condition of anonymity. “There are a lot of people looking and not a lot of jobs out there for them. People can still find stuff; they just have to lower their expectations.”

In this environment, Republican staffers should be looking to sign on as the GOP lobbyist for a predominantly Democratic firm, the same aide said. There will also be a lot of business for Republican lobbyists who have the clout to rally GOP lawmakers against a given piece of legislation. “Guys will get paid a lot of money to defeat stuff,” the aide said.

The bear market for Republican talent in Washington may rival the post-election labor market of 1994, when thousands of Democrats who had enjoyed comfortable Hill careers during the four-decade Democratic reign were tossed to the street after the Republican revolution.

“The good news is that Republican Hill staffers won’t have to jet to Vegas to try their luck at the tables,” said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean. “There are always opportunities in Washington, but the responsibility level will probably be at a lower level for many who choose to remain in town.”

All of this, and we haven’t even touched on the direct effect of an Obama victory: If the Democrats take the White House, that’s up to 3,000 displaced Republicans looking for jobs after the Bush administration.

In 2006, Republicans lost 30 seats in the House, 22 of them held by incumbents. The Heritage Foundation’s Dave Barnes said that about 5,000 to 6,000 jobs turned over that year, owing mainly to the majority-minority switch.

Jonathan Collegio, who left his job as press secretary of the National Republican Congressional Committee at the time to take a position with the National Association of Broadcasters, said the people hardest hit were chiefs of staffs of members thought to be in safe districts.

“These were guys who had Capitol Hill careers for 10 to 15 years who were all of a sudden out of a job,” Collegio said, “and lobbyists weren’t exactly knocking down their door.”

The lone speck of silver lining this time around is that there’s been time to prepare. Republicans have known for a while that this would be a big year of political turnover in their ranks.

For the scores who decided to stay through the election, or whose professional future will be determined by the results of this election, about the only thing you can do in the next few days is wait, then mass e-mail those résumés on Nov. 5.

“Now’s the time to get your game plan together, because the fourth quarter is going to come pretty quick,” said Dan Gage, press secretary for retiring Rep. Jim Walsh (R-N.Y.).

Regula is the longest-serving member of the retiring Republican crop this year. A number of his staffers have been with him for the bulk of his 36 years in Congress, and they are therefore joining their boss in retirement. His chief of staff, Rowley, isn’t among them, and she said the time from now until next week’s election will be about getting her ducks in a row for the next turn in her career.

“I haven’t been super-aggressive yet, because very few members are going to pull the trigger before the election on new hires,” she said, “so this is time to be getting prepared.”

As for the state of mind of her Hill cohorts, Rowley said, “I don’t think people are panicked yet.”

D.Q. Houlton, press secretary for retiring Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), suspects a mad dash of applicants to the doors of the Republican National Committee. He adds: “I know they aren’t going to be able to handle an influx of congressional staffers and a lot of Bush staffers, too, if Obama wins. Hopefully, McCain can win some of these swing states; then we’ll at least have some job openings.”

For those leaving the Hill, Traverse advises a broadening of the mind in terms of what kind of job titles and salaries ex-Hill staffers ought to seek.

“Besides going back home and finding opportunities in the private sectors outside of D.C., there are state government relations. I think they need to branch out into public affairs, public relations, analysis, and consulting and research,” Traverse said.

Blair Bennett, a client partner at Korn/Ferry International, said the big difference between this year and 2006 is that “the mood downtown has changed.”

“In 2006,” she said, “downtown hadn’t quite shifted so heavily to looking to Democrats, and I think they have now. ... Even if [Republicans] have had time to prepare, I think they’ll see that downtown has changed in the past couple years.”

Patrick O’Connor contributed to this story.

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