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New GOP Staffs Pull from Romney's '08 Campaign

By Erin McPike

Large GOP gains in Congress may carry some downsides for the Republicans who hope to challenge President Obama next year.

For one thing, with Republicans in charge of a piece of the government, it shoulders the GOP with some responsibility and could hinder the party's ability to create a full contrast with Obama. But there's another problem that doesn't lack significance, either: staffing.

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Republicans new to Capitol Hill are hiring key staff: chiefs of staff, advisers, communicators. And there's already been a bit of a brain drain from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's last presidential campaign.

Today, Florida Sen.-elect Marco Rubio announced his top staff, which included three former Romney campaign hands. Sally Canfield, who served as Romney's policy adviser, will be Rubio's legislative director and chief policy adviser; Joe Pounder, who was in charge of rapid response for Romney, will be Rubio's communications director; and Alex Burgos, who directed specialty media for Romney, will serve as director of media affairs for Rubio.

A former campaign aide to Romney said it shouldn't be taken as a reflection on the Bay Stater or his ability to run successfully for the nomination.

"Jobs with Marco Rubio are the most sought-after jobs in politics. And with Scott Brown, too," the former aide said. "These are jobs of a lifetime."

Brown, too, has taken a few staffers from Romney's last campaign. Gail Gitcho, who was a press secretary for Romney, serves Brown as communications director. And Colin Reed, another Romney aide who was deputy director of the rapid response center, is now Brown's press secretary.

The list extends to other key staff. While the top advisers that amount to Romney's kitchen cabinet will return in some capacity, a chunk of managers and middle-range staff have moved up and on. And some key GOP operatives who at some point have considered working for Romney or in the presidential field generally have taken other positions in Washington, as well.

Former Romney staffers have explained, not surprisingly, that after four years of adding valuable experience to their resumes, they're qualified to do more than what was called for in their former roles. Nevertheless, the staffing puzzle puts ever so slight a dent in the argument that Romney can pull together the best team in the field, although most other teams have yet to form.

Carl Forti, who was Romney's political director, makes big spending decisions - media buys - for the Karl Rove- and Ed Gillespie-led venture, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, leading Politico to brand him recently as "Karl Rove's Karl Rove."

A former Romney staffer said that Forti wouldn't return to Boston because in his current role, "He has the best job in politics."

Some of the political staffers under Forti have moved on and plan to stay put. Gregg Keller, the former national coalitions director for Romney, is the executive director for Ralph Reed's Faith and Freedom Coalition, and Joe Wall, a former regional political director, is now doing political work in Washington for Goldman Sachs.

Matt Rhoades, the communications director in the last campaign, is widely expected to be campaign manager in the second effort. Former national press secretary Kevin Madden continues to advise Romney on messaging but is unlikely to return full-time to the coming campaign.

Most of the rest of the press shop working under Madden, Rhoades and traveling press secretary and longtime aide Eric Fehrnstrom, however, have not just moved on from the department, but likely won't be returning to Romney's next team.

In addition to Rubio's collection of Burgos and Pounder and Brown's hires last year of Gitcho and Reed, incoming House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California picked up Sarah Pompei as communications director. Pompei was a press secretary on Romney's last campaign. Joanna Burgos, who also worked on Romney's communications team, was just named deputy communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Tim Albrecht, who was Romney's Iowa communications director, recently joined Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad's office as communications director. And Romney's deputy communications director, Carolyn Weyforth, moved west to become the chief operating officer of The Jonas Group. Stephen Smith, who was director of online communications for Romney, is now Digital Director of Purple Strategies, a media affairs firm led by Alex Castellanos, a former ad maker for Romney.

Other staffers outside the press and political departments aren't planning to return, either, after landing bigger roles. Mike Reed, for example, who was a research analyst for Romney, recently signed on to be research director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

As one operative put it, "These people got some hot positions. These are unbelievable jobs that these people are getting."

What's more, even some former staffers say that in his second run, Romney will need some fresh blood and new perspectives to plug into his operation. And after the grueling 13 months that was his first national campaign, some say that will be a welcome change.

Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com.

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