Hill leaders niche players in national campaign

AP News
Posted: Oct 22, 2012 9:04 AM
Hill leaders niche players in national campaign

WASHINGTON (AP) — At the top of their roosts in Washington, leaders of Congress are, as usual, turning out to be niche players on the national campaign stage.

The Senate's top two leaders, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., are tending to home-state politics.

Not so in the House, where Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and his Democratic counterpart, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California., are crisscrossing the country, siphoning every last dollar of campaign cash they can find to help win House seats.

More junior House and Senate leaders are out campaigning and raising money as well — not just to win this year's races, but to shore up rank-and-file support for when it's their turn to run for the top jobs on Capitol Hill.

For Reid, all politics is local. For the most part, he's staying in Nevada, where he is at the helm of a powerhouse political machine that's fully cranked up on behalf of President Barack Obama. Nevada is a crucial swing state and one that Obama increasingly needs to hold as polls show states like North Carolina and Florida slipping away and Virginia tightening.

On top of his efforts to help of Obama, Reid is working hard to unseat appointed GOP Sen. Dean Heller, who replaced Republican Sen. John Ensign, who resigned last year after a scathing report from the Senate Ethics Committee on his efforts to cover up an affair with the wife of a top aide.

Reid had a non-aggression pact with Ensign — they promised to not campaign against each other — but he's been very active in promoting the Senate candidacy of Rep. Shelley Berkeley and the campaign of Democrat Steven Horsford in a newly drawn House district.

Reid's appeal doesn't extend outside Nevada, however. Republicans and groups supporting them are vilifying him in speeches, debates and attack ads on Democrats in Senate races around the country. Not doing retail politics outside the state suits Reid, 72, just fine. That's all the more time at home in Searchlight with his wife Landra, who's recuperating from a recent round of chemotherapy for breast cancer.

House Speaker Boehner, on the other hand, is anything but a homebody. Since the House recessed Sept. 21, he's been on the road nonstop, raising money, rallying GOP volunteers and appearing at rallies for GOP nominee Mitt Romney in states like Iowa and North Carolina.

Boehner travels in a chartered jet accompanied by a couple of aides and a U.S. Capitol Police security detail. His effort resembles a presidential campaign in that its itinerary is subject to change depending on changes in the political landscape.

Confident that most GOP incumbents are safe, for instance, Boehner is now taking the fight to a lot of Democratic-held districts, including a trip to Iowa on this week for a fundraiser for GOP House candidate Ben Lange, who nonetheless faces an uphill battle to unseat Democrat Bruce Braley.

Boehner political aide Corey Fritz says the speaker's schedule might allow for a night or two to sleep in his own bed in West Chester before heading out for a traditional three-day bus tour of Ohio. On Election Day he'll vote, then head to Washington to watch the results in his political shop.

Democratic Leader Pelosi has been just as busy as Boehner. Pelosi is a powerhouse fundraiser, and her efforts are ever more important to her party because of the outsized impact of GOP super PACs that can accept uncapped donations.

On Tuesday, Pelosi will be in New York City for a fundraiser to benefit a Democratic super PAC called the House Majority PAC. The event at the Park Avenue apartment of investment banker Charles Myers has a minimum donation of $500, though guest can give unlimited amounts.

Unlike Boehner, Pelosi flies commercial. Her office says that in September, Pelosi attended 77 fundraising and campaign events in five states and Washington that raised more than $7 million for Democratic coffers. In the five weeks before up to the election, 65 fundraising and campaign appearances were on her schedule.

Senate Republican Leader McConnell, himself a hand-over-fist fundraiser, has mixed travel across the country to raise campaign cash for Senate Republicans with time back home in Kentucky helping in GOP efforts to wrench the state house from longtime Democratic control and unseat one of the state's two Democratic congressmen, Ben Chandler.

McConnell, a dominant force in the state's GOP, is up for re-election in 2014. His politicking in Kentucky helps keep the party apparatus — much of which he helped build since winning election in 1984 — in fighting shape for his bid for a sixth term and keep at bay any potential tea party-style challenger from the right.

Lower ranking leaders are in on the act as well.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., is splitting his time between his central Virginia district and the road. On Saturday, Cantor was in Ann Arbor, Mich., visiting his daughter while mixing in a tailgating event aimed at boosting Romney.

For Cantor and other leaders like Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., campaign events and fundraisers with GOP candidates help nurture relationships that may pay off in later leadership races.

The same holds true for Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland, patiently waiting behind onetime rival Pelosi for a chance to be Democratic leader. Since September, he's cut a campaign and fundraising swath through Washington State, Arizona, Colorado, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois, among other states.