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In Washington, a Surge of Interest to Hire Republicans

With Democrats in danger of losing control of Congress, some prominent lobbying shops, trade groups and contractors are already moving to bring more Republicans on board to bolster their political fortunes.

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Jodie Coston | Photodisc | Getty Images

Lobbyists, political consultants and headhunters all say that the going rate for Republicans — particularly current and former House staff members — has risen significantly in just the last few weeks, with salaries beginning at $300,000 and rising to as high as $1 million for private-sector positions.

“We’re seeing a premium for Republicans,” said Ivan H. Adler, a lobbyist for the McCormick Group in Washington, which specializes in executive searches. “They’re the new ‘It’ girl.”

Raytheon, the military contractor, just hired as its top Washington lobbyist a former senior Republican aide in Congress, and Wal-Mart and Target are said to be looking for Republicans to beef up their Washington offices, according to consultants with knowledge of the talks.

In a town built on connections, the surge in interest is a turnaround for Republicans, who in the first year of the Obama administration had difficulty finding top-tier political jobs in the private sector and were considered something akin to political exiles.

With polls indicating a strong showing for Republicans in November, “it’s made Republicans more relevant,” said Drew Maloney, the chief executive of Ogilvy Government Relations, a top Washington lobbying shop.

If Republicans succeed in regaining control of the House and perhaps even the Senate, firms seeking influence over federal policies are looking to gain an edge by tacking toward the right. That will become particularly important, they say, if Republicans try to roll back some of the major initiatives in health care, business regulation and other areas that Democrats have pushed through Congress in the last year.

Renewed battles over big-ticket legislation would also be likely to mean a financial windfall for lobbyists and political consultants, who have proven largely immune to the country’s economic problems. With major legislative debates in Washington, revenues for more than 13,000 lobbyists rose more than 5 percent last year to $3.5 billion and continued to climb through the first half of this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group.

JPMorgan Chase, among at least a dozen recent hires, bought in Mel Martinez, the former Republican senator from Florida, as a senior executive. Robert L. Wilkie, a top Pentagon official in the administration of President George W. Bush, was hired by CH2M Hill, a construction and design firm, as a vice president overseeing military projects. And Research in Motion, which makes the BlackBerry, hired Jason C. Scism, a top Republican aide to Representative Darrell Issa of California, into an executive spot that was last held by a Democrat.

Meanwhile, a number of other companies and trade groups are said to be in the market for Republican officials between now and November, headhunters and lobbyists say. (Executives at Target and Wal-Mart, among the companies mentioned, declined to comment on their possible hiring plans.)

Political consultants emphasize that while demand for Republican credentials is on the rise, a mix of factors, including Congressional experience in critical areas like health care or financial reform, comes into play along with party affiliation in filling government relations jobs. Private contractors vying for government work are particularly uneasy about being identified too closely with one party or the other, and a number of companies that have recently hired Republicans deny that party politics was a driving factor.

But at the Washington lobbying firm of Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell, executives acknowledge that the prospect of a Republican resurgence has led them to look for someone with solid conservative credentials.

"It's very clear that the pendulum is swinging back, and having a balance is going to be very, very important." -Consultant, Jackie Arends

“We feel like moving into next year, it’ll be important to influence House Republicans, so we’ll clearly be looking to move more into that area,” said Phil Rivers, a partner at the firm.

“Our recent hires have been Democrats because that’s where our needs were,” Mr. Rivers said, but with Republicans appearing poised to add many seats in November, “that’s where the need will be.”

The House and Senate have ethics restrictions that seek to blunt the impact of the “revolving door” between senior Congressional staff positions and the private sector. There are rules over negotiations for private sector jobs, and a one-year “cooling off” period restricting Congressional contacts by former staff members. But the restrictions in the House are looser than those in the Senate, preventing contacts and lobbying by former staff members only with their former office, not the entire House. The Senate prevents any lobbying of the entire body for a year.

While many Washington consultants believe organizations looking to influence policy need to play to the party in power, there is a competing school of thought that derides such strategic shifts as fickle and largely ineffective.

Several Washington lobbying powerhouses, like Patton Boggs and the Podesta Group, maintain a stable of lobbyists from both parties, no matter who is in power, based on the belief that they always need to work both sides of the political aisle.

Jack Quinn, a top aide to President Bill Clinton and the founder of the lobbying shop of Quinn Gillespie & Associates, said he had always recruited lobbyists and lawyers from both parties to make it a “bona fide bipartisan operation.”

Even so, some Republicans working at trade associations are being lured aggressively by major lobbying firms in just the last few months, said Jackie Arends, a Washington consultant who assists private organizations looking to fill government-relations posts.

“We’re seeing them being recruited by ‘K Street,’ ” Ms. Arends said, using the nickname for Washington’s lobbying corridor, “which has a lot more money to throw around” than the trade groups.

Republican lobbyists with senior-level experience in government are now sometimes seeing offers approaching $1 million a year, Ms. Arends said. (She declined to identify individuals or firms, citing client confidentiality.)

“It’s very clear that the pendulum is swinging back, and having balance is going to be very, very important,” she said.

But for Republican staff members in Congress, the lure of the private sector may pose a dilemma if their party does indeed regain power.

Mr. Maloney, the Ogilvy executive, said he had spoken with some Republican staff members on Capitol Hill who were torn by possibilities of working within Congress as the party in power, or moving to the private sector at a high salary while their marketability is rising.

For House Republican staff members, “if they want to move, this is the time,” he said. “But at the same time, a lot of these people want the opportunity to work in the majority.”