Dick Morris, the former Bill Clinton consultant and confidant-turned conservative commentator, is trying on a new hat: Republican campaign surrogate.
Over the long arc of a career that has twice landed him on the cover of Time magazine, Morris has worked for prominent clients in both parties, ranging from Ed Koch to Jesse Helms. He’s authored books, appeared regularly as a television commentator and served as a key political adviser to Clinton both in Arkansas and in the White House, all the while amassing a reputation as a brilliant, if cold-blooded, strategist.
But in his latest iteration, Morris has become something of a principal himself, headlining rallies, fundraising and advocating for Republican House candidates. He’s formally endorsed some of the party’s top prospects, raised money for a slate of GOP House candidates including David McKinley in West Virginia, and Bob Gibbs and Tom Ganley in Ohio, and even blasted out a message to his e-mail list subscribers heaping praise on David Harmer, a challenger for a northern California-based seat.
House candidates who haven’t received material political benefits from Morris also report having informally discussed their races with the consultant and current FoxNews commentator at conservative events.
“He’s found his place, and he’s become important again. He’s found his place on the right,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic strategist who has known Morris for decades and who credits Morris with helping him land a job in the Clinton White House. “He’s emerged as a major exponent of the conservative Republican argument.”
In an interview, Morris conceded that after spending much of his career dispensing behind-the-scenes advice to political clients, he’s taken on a different role.
“This is a first for me,” he said. “This is the first time I’ve been as active in a nationwide campaign to this degree.”
Morris pointed to President Barack Obama’s ambitious legislative docket as the motivating force behind his transition from strategist to surrogate.
“I’m outraged by the Obama agenda,” Morris told POLITICO. “I speak out about it on national TV, and I wanted to speak out about in person.”
Morris hasn’t limited his role to House races. He’s offered public endorsements to GOP Senate contenders Carly Fiorina in California and Rep. John Boozman in Arkansas and Republican gubernatorial hopefuls Tom Corbett in Pennsylvania and Bradley Byrne in Alabama. He’s even reached deep down-ballot, throwing his backing to Natalie Nichols, a candidate for Bowie County clerk in Texas, whom he has called “one of the rising, young stars in the Republican Party.”
But Morris, whose voice and familiarity to voters have been amplified by his regular appearances on Fox,, says his real focus is on helping to win the war for the House.
“I believe strongly in what we can do,” said Morris, who in one of his recent appearances on popular Fox host Sean Hannity’s radio program argued that Republicans were in line to win 60 to 80 House seats.
What Morris offers on the campaign trail, House GOP campaign officials say, is an ability to mobilize and excite party donors and activists with an empowering message that a massive Republican sweep is on the horizon.
During a recent joint fundraiser for Ganley, Gibbs and another Ohio GOP hopeful, Bill Johnson, Morris said he believed the party could win six seats across the state while winning control of the House.
He delivered similar messages at recent events for Republican Scott Tipton in Colorado’s Western Slope-based 3rd District and for McKinley in West Virginia’s Wheeling-based 1st District, telling supporters that both men had opportunities to win seats that have been in Democratic hands for years.
“There is tremendous excitement about his visit, lots of grass-roots buzz that he is coming to our district in such a competitive race,” David Cohen, a McKinley spokesman, told POLITICO in an e-mail just before Morris’s visit. “Sixty days out, he will certainly energize our base.”
Morris is also putting Vote.com, the issues-focused website he runs with his wife Eileen McGann that claims 1.7 million registered users, to use in support of his favored House candidates. He’s recently sent e-mails to site users praising Republicans Dan Debicella in Connecticut, Cory Gardner in Colorado, Robert Hurt in Virginia, and Beth Anne Rankin in Arkansas.
While Morris stressed that he provides informal assistance to candidates on a pro bono basis, he has nevertheless found ways to pad his bank account off the midterm elections.
He’s been particularly active with Americans for Prosperity, the anti-tax group that is running TV ads against Democrats. The organization has sent Morris to headline rallies in Colorado, Virginia and Arkansas, where he has implored audiences to elect conservatives to Congress. He also attended the organization’s recent “Defending the Dream Summit” in Washington, where he appeared alongside Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell at the kick-off session.
Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, declined to say whether the group was paying Morris to appear at its events but added, “We are happy to pay people, in general, if we are happy with their message.”
Morris’s elevated profile also helps with marketing a recently published book he wrote with McGann titled, “Take Back America: A Battle Plan,” which he bills as a blueprint for a GOP takeover of Congress.
“I think he’s one of the smartest guys in the country on general advice,” said GOP lobbyist Charlie Black, who has known Morris for nearly 30 years. “I’d listen to him.”
Read more: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0910/42701_Page2.html#ixzz10YWKrgJC
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