Barack Obama isn’t the only one in Washington who senses a seismic political shift that will require him to get cozier with Republicans next year if he wants to score any victories. Corporate titans eager to get some loving on Capitol Hill for their issues and projects are also suddenly interested in bipartisanship, turning to lobbying and PR firms that can give them an edge by playing to both sides. “You can sort of hear the ice cracking, the thaw setting in,” says Jack Quinn, a former Clinton White House counsel who in 2000 teamed with GOP biggie Ed Gillespie to form Quinn Gillespie & Associates.
It’s about time. Lobbying and PR has been a very partisan world ever since the Republican revolution in 1994 that put the GOP in charge of Congress for the first time in some 40 years. Miffed that K Street was home mostly to Democrats, the GOP signaled that it would deal with the few firms heavy with Republican lobbyists and consultants. Payback came when the Democrats took charge in 2006, hitting a high with Obama’s election.
“For the last couple of years the bipartisan element of our pitch was meaningless. Nobody wanted bipartisanship,” says Quinn, who pens an occasional and lively insider’s note about Washington doings that’s posted on his firm’s website. “They wanted Obama, all Democrats, all the time.”
Other firms are also hearing that clients now prefer a mix of liberal-conservative political advice and connections instead of one flavor.
Republican Ed Rogers, who chairs the BGR Group, says that those who played up bipartisanship when it wasn’t cool are in the driver’s seat now. “To give the best, most complete service, you need to be able to get a fair hearing for clients with Republicans, Democrats, and in the media. BGR has kept pace with the changes that are needed to do the best job possible,” he says.
And GOP media strategist Ron Bonjean, who recently teamed with former Hillary Clinton aide Phil Singer, says, “As the political pendulum swings back and forth between parties, most businesses that we work with are looking for a common-sense communications approach that takes into account the thought process from both sides of the aisle.” Bonjean, also a U.S. News blogger, adds: “We have seen a dramatic increase from industries who believe that bringing our years of experience from Republican and Democratic leadership circles will help make effective and balanced decisions that will benefit their bottom lines.”