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SALEM, N.H. — Clients often want their lobbyists to clean up messes. There’s nothing unusual about that. But usually they don’t expect them to actually pick up a broom. And yet, two days before the New Hampshire primary, Bryan Cunningham, a BGR Holding lobbyist with a gilded list of tech clients like Oracle and AT&T, is wearing blue jeans and sweeping debris into the center court of the Woodbury School gym. John McCain has just been to this middle school in Salem, a southern New Hampshire town of about 30,000, and Cunningham has traveled here as a volunteer for the Arizona Republican senator’s campaign. So much for the glamour of the campaign trail. But believe it or not, this is Cunningham’s idea of a vacation. “There’s just something about getting out of Washington to experience the political process,” he says. In spite of all the railing against Washington lobbyists that was de rigueur for candidates, New Hampshire during the closing days of the primary was practically K Street North. Lobbyists like Cunningham were on a busman’s holiday, doing grunt work for the presidential candidates of their choice — even though it means giving up steaks at the Palm for burgers at Jackie’s Diner on Main Street in Nashua. Many were simply getting a political junkie fix by hitting the trail for a favorite presidential hopeful. For some, however, the days of ringing doorbells in Nashua or holding up signs at a rally are good business — a chance to be seen on the campaign trail by candidates and hopefully remembered when they return to D.C. “There are an awful lot of people in town who are very smart politically and politically astute, but who never go outside the Beltway to campaign for anything,” says Toby Moffett, a former Connecticut congressman-turned-lobbyist at the Livingston Group and PLM Group who regularly does campaign work. “What matters a whole lot to a candidate is who they see out there working on their behalf.” And given the uncertainty about who will win, lobbyists will have plenty of opportunities in the coming weeks to be seen in the field. CLEANUP CREW Cunningham, who worked as a staffer for Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), came to New Hampshire with two friends from his Senate staffer days, Robert Fisher and Bill Bailey, both lobbyists (for Verizon and Disney, respectively) and former McCain aides. Fisher says he’s fallen back into doing the type of advance work he did when he worked for McCain as a paid staffer during his 2000 presidential bid. As the crew finished cleaning up the gym in Salem on Sunday, he was already talking about calling the police chief in Keene to make sure an upcoming campaign stop won’t disrupt local traffic patterns. The three had just finished working the McCain town-hall-style meeting at the school, which meant getting there early to set up 600 chairs (all of which were full; McCain was drawing standing-room-only crowds throughout New Hampshire by the end of the primary campaign) and working the door. Fisher wanted to make sure the cleanup was done right. “You want to leave it the way you had it,” he says. In many ways, the three volunteers are perfect campaign workers: experienced, engaged, and committed. That’s why just about every major campaign in New Hampshire relied on lobbyists to play an indispensable role. But the ties between lobbyists and candidates have rarely been under such scrutiny. The emerging theme of the election is change — less “Washington business as usual.” That means that lobbyists don’t always play well in places like Pelham and Penacook. Yet even the candidates who were most vehement in opposing the work of Washington lobbyists were using them in New Hampshire. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), for instance, has declined campaign contributions from federally registered lobbyists. Still, some of his key advisers are former lobbyists, and several are using vacation time to work for him in early primary states. One of the co-chairs of Obama’s New Hampshire campaign, Jim Demers, is a state lobbyist who has represented trial lawyers, firefighters, drug companies, and a video poker/slot machine vendor, something Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) pointed out during a recent debate. Some lobbyists volunteering for Obama’s campaign (as well as some lobbyists working for Clinton and other candidates) declined to be interviewed, citing concerns about how the public would perceive their participation. IN THE BUNKER To be sure, lobbyists who stump for candidates — even candidates who eventually lose — stand to gain. Campaign contributions get more attention, but stumping for a candidate creates a different kind of relationship, one forged in the pressure and adrenaline of a campaign with victory far from certain. “If you happen to back the right person who goes all the way, boy, they remember that, and they remember it as a family that went through a war,” says James Thurber, an American University professor who is writing a book on Congress and lobbying reform. Campaigning creates a different dynamic and more of a chance to build trust than a meeting in Washington, Moffett says, because “you’re in the bunker together — you generally would not barge into a subcommittee staff strategy session as a lobbyist, whereas you would be right in the middle of the strategy session, or you could be” on the campaign trail. For Fisher, the bunker was in McCain’s campaign. He and his friends spent their days mopping floors, deciding which volunteers would stand on the stage behind the candidate with signs (McCain doesn’t like to be onstage himself, Fisher says), taking former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge to Portsmouth (and bumping into rival Republican candidate Rudolph Giuliani; everyone exchanged cordial greetings), picking up copy paper, and trudging back to the hotel at the end of the day, still unsure about what would need doing the next day. KNOCK, KNOCK Carla Zeppieri, a senior manager of government relations for Raytheon, took personal time off and drove from Washington, D.C., to New Hampshire to volunteer for Clinton. She spent a chunk of time on the day before the primary juggling Hillary Clinton signs in the back of a Bill Clinton town hall meeting in Peterborough, a Clinton button clipped to her scarf, as people streamed through the door to hear the former president. Zeppieri, who formerly served in the Navy, says she has a deep personal conviction that Clinton “is the best candidate for the job,” something she says she takes very seriously because she has friends still serving in the military. Kate Boyce of Patton Boggs had spent part of Sunday at a Clinton campaign office in New Hampshire, making calls about that Bill Clinton meeting in Peterborough, to encourage people to come. Drew Maloney is the managing partner of Ogilvy Government Relations, a firm that pulls in millions every year representing heavy hitters such as the Blackstone Group. Maloney spent Election Day knocking on doors in New Boston, N.H., working to turn out voters for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. And Obama may not take contributions from lobbyists, but many are volunteering for him in the early states just the same. Verizon lobbyist Mark Keam, a former aide to Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), had worked with Obama on Illinois issues on the Hill and volunteered for Obama’s Senate campaign. He’s done a volunteer stint in Nevada this year, and says he has no problem with Obama’s call to curb the influence of lobbyists. “I think what he’s trying to do is come up with a realistic assessment with how to make changes one step at a time, unlike Senator Edwards, who just rails against special interests,” he says. Another Obama supporter, Ogilvy Government Relations lobbyist Moses Mercado, headed to Nevada the weekend before the New Hampshire primary and planned to stay through the Nevada primary on Jan. 19. He believes in the candidate, he says, and he doesn’t mind telling voters that he’s a lobbyist who is for Obama. “People always ask what do you do, and you say, �I’m a lobbyist,’ and they say, �Wow,’” he says with a chuckle. But, Mercado says, he explains that before he was a lobbyist, he worked on the Hill and served as an assistant attorney general in Texas. “Most people, they identify lobbyists with something bad,” he says. Mercado says he explains that lobbyists aren’t just for big business; some work for nonprofits and other worthy groups. Fisher, the McCain volunteer, says, “If they ask me what I do, I say that I work for Verizon. I do government relations. Why should I hide that?” His work for McCain “is an extension of my friendship.” Of course, lobbying campaigns — and elections — are more fun when you win. At McCain’s victory party in Nashua last Tuesday night, the buzz was building. Polls had shown McCain strongly ahead of Romney, and by 8:11 p.m., networks were calling the race for McCain. Cunningham let out an excited whoop, cheering along with the rest of the crowd of supporters. Then, he reached for that ultimate Washington lobbyist accessory: his BlackBerry. He started texting the news to friends and family.
Carrie Levine can be contacted at [email protected].

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