- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2008

After months of sitting on the sidelines and watching the presidential race unfold in Iowa, Florida and Colorado, Capitol Hill staffers are leaving for the campaign trail in droves.

Many on Sen. Barack Obama’s team left months ago to work on the Illinois Democrat’s primary campaign. Now, dozens of young Democratic aides are leaving Washington as the presumptive party nominee sets off a 50-state strategy and infuses his campaign with new blood.

“The way things are going, with more and more staff heading for the campaign trail, this place is soon going to look like a ghost town,” said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

That is one reason Mr. Reid announced earlier this month that the Senate would adjourn for the summer one week earlier than planned. Leaders are aiming to finish their work by the end of the week.

Although Washington will still conduct business, Congress will hold fewer votes and take more frequent recesses until the Nov. 4 elections, which will set the course for the next four years.

“Staff is heading to where the real action is: the campaign trail,” said a Democratic aide who was left behind on Capitol Hill.

Republican staffers are leaving to join the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

“Today I am heading back to South Florida for the next few months to head up efforts for the McCain presidential campaign. I am very excited about this new opportunity to lead Republican efforts in my hometown,” Bettina Inclan told reporters when announcing her departure from the office of Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, Michigan Republican, and the Republican House Policy Committee.

Melanie Roussell, a top aide for the House Judiciary Committee, last month announced her “leave of absence” through November so she could run the Southern press desk for the Obama campaign.

Obama campaign offices across the country are staffed by aides to fellow Senate Democrats, including Edward M. Kennedy and John Kerry of Massachusetts, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Evan Bayh of Indiana.

Some of the campaign aides of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, have joined the Obama team. Others have returned to Mrs. Clinton’s Senate office or are helping House and Senate campaigns.

Hill staffers are sending e-mails announcing that they are “on loan” to Mr. McCain or to Mr. Obama. Some are negotiating deals with the congressional members to whom they are assigned, especially those who are not facing competitive re-election battles, to take up to six weeks off to work on the campaign circuit.

The Obama campaign declined to disclose its number of paid personnel, but campaign finance reports show at least 954. The McCain campaign also did not release its figures, but the candidate’s June report showed 205 paid staffers.

Mr. Obama is hiring paid grass-roots organizers in all 50 states and is opening unprecedented numbers of offices across the country. Mr. McCain’s finance reports indicate that the campaign has opened few offices.

The Obama campaign announced 90 hires recently in Missouri and last weekend opened 24 offices in rural parts of the state.

The Missouri Democratic Party said it is “placing offices where no other presidential candidate, Democrat or Republican, has had a presence before.”

Team Obama has 12 new offices in Iowa, 18 new offices in Michigan with three more to come, and 19 offices opening in Ohio in the coming days.

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