Washington Prowler

Joe to Joe

Joe Biden goes missing in the Joe Sestak revelations. Also: Cantor's McCarthy site.

By 6.1.10

Some Democrats on Capitol Hill were caught off guard by the White House announcement on Friday that placed former President Bill Clinton and Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel at the center of the Rep. Joe Sestak job bribery scandal. 

"We expected at the end of the day that somehow Joe Biden would be involved," says one Democrat leadership source. "He was much more involved in the Specter recruitment and had more invested in getting Specter what he wanted."

Indeed, Specter and several senior advisers, according to Democrat Senate sources, went several times to Biden and his staff complaining about Sestak and the fact that the field had not been cleared for Specter as the "new Democrat" had hoped. Specter advisers say that their candidate spoke several times with frustration to Biden after the switch about Sestak's candidacy.

While Specter was not promised a clear field, Democrats did work to accomplish just that. Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell acolyte and former National Constitution Center head Joe Torsella was the only Democrat in the primary at the time of Specter's switch in late April 2009, and Rendell persuaded him to drop out rather quickly from the race. After that, Rendell made it known that he was working behind the scenes to cut off Sestak's in-state fundraising resources from major donors to the party.

"Sestak and the White House are now saying that the conversation was brief and Sestak is a bit unclear on the offer now," says one Republican Senate leadership aide. "We think there is more to this than what is out there, and the White House explanation, if you look at it, simply doesn't make sense. The fact that the vice president, who usually has something to say about anything, is not saying a word on all of this is very interesting to a number of his former colleagues up here in the Senate."

Some House Republicans are grumbling about deputy whip Rep. Kevin McCarthy's foray into "new media politics" with his
"America Speaking Out" website, which has become a bit of an online embarrassment to him, and his boss, Eric Cantor

"I want to know how much our conference paid out to political and new media consultants for a website that appears to be nothing more than a thinly disguised effort to collect email and mobile phone numbers, but sits there filled with Democrat and left-wing trolls posting and voting on ideas like having white people guard non-white people, support net neutrality and elect more progressives," says one House member from a Southern state. "It's amateurish and reinforces the impression that Republicans aren't very good at this kind of online politicking."

For months, McCarthy has been meeting privately with groups of House GOP members, discussing ways to rebottle the magic of the 1994 "Contract with America." But the real work appears to be taking place elsewhere. Barry Jackson, House GOP Leader John Boehner' s chief of staff, is said to be directing much of the effort in shaping a 1994-like platform for Republicans to run on. Jackson, who spent time in the Bush White House, was a Boehner aide in the runup to the 1994 Contract, and worked with the staffs of Rep. Dick Armey and Newt Gingrich to develop the Contract with America. 

McCarthy's effort is believed to be the curtain raiser on several months worth of projects that will lead up to an early fall campaign centered on a set of achievable policy objectives and House operations proposals that Republican House candidates can campaign on. "The sense here is that where 1994's document was quite a bit of House operations stuff, this one has to be a bit broader on national policy objectives, like cutting spending. Greater transparency of House operations is certainly going to be a big theme, though," says a House leadership aide.

But some House Republicans are wondering why money is being poured into expensive projects like "Speaking Out" and consultant contracts, when the American people and grassroots movements like the Tea Parties and 9-12ers have laid out a fairly clear agenda that can be adapted by Republicans.

"Cut the spending, cut the taxes, secure the border, defend the nation, we're talking about being able to communicate some core conservative principles and American values that our Democrat opponents have opposed or simply don't believe in," says the House member. "We don't need to reinvent the wheel or create something heavily influenced by pride of authorship and political consultants and message gurus."

McCarthy's efforts are largely seen as an offshoot of efforts by House GOP Whip Eric Cantor, whose track record with building national, conservative outreach efforts is spotty, at best. His 2009 National Council for a New America, which famously held its first meeting with "real America" in the Democrat bastion of Arlington, Virginia, an "Inside the Beltway" suburb of Washington D.C., was shut down last month.

Cantor, though has done a better job of helping to nurture candidates running for the House this election cycle. Through the House leadership's "Young Guns" project, Cantor has recruited and developed an interesting slate of candidates, including Wisconsin's Sean Duffy and Arkansas's Tim Griffin, who will be rising stars if elected in the 2010 cycle.

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