It's been a busy week on the road for Darrell Issa, the North County GOP congressman who has set out for New Hampshire in quest of what many believe is his party's nomination for the presidency of the United States.
As is the tradition with such trips, the putative presidential candidate sent out a spokesman to deny he's interested in the job.
"He is not running for president," ex-Issa congressional aide Kurt Bardella, who now runs Endeavor Strategic Communications, told inquiring members of the media. "Congressman Issa wants to do everything he can to help grow the Republican Party and play a positive and impactful role in shaping its message going forward."
But that hasn't stopped the speculation. "Darrell's also abrasive and single-minded…and when it comes to members of Congress who really detest Barack Obama, he's going to be on everybody's top-three list. That alone sets him apart," pollster John Zogby told National Journal.
"I think there's a certain cache [sic] when you appear larger than your district," he said. "It gives more clout to your gavel."
Meanwhile, another Issa staffer has recently gotten back from a trip heavy with political connotations.
According to a congressional employee travel post-disclosure form filed February 10 with the House ethics committee, Lawrence J. Brady, staff director of the Issa-chaired House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, spent from January 29 through 31 at a Congressional Institute event held by Republicans in Cambridge, Maryland.
"As staff director, I am required to be familiar with the public policy issues discussed at the conference so that I can assist members in the planning of the committee's agenda," Brady wrote on the form.
An attached program lists presentations by Steve Hayes of the Weekly Standard and National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru. At a session entitled "Lay of the Land," GOP pollster David Winston was joined by Rich Thau of Presentation Testing and John McLaughlin of McLaughlin and Associates.
The evening's keynote speaker was Hall of Fame college-football coach Lou Holtz of Notre Dame and elsewhere. Richard Campos-Duffy of the LIBRE Initiative, a GOP effort to reach Latino voters, also put in an appearance.
Pollster Frank Luntz was there, as was Sean Parnell, a retired Army captain and author of Outlaw Platoon, the best-seller about the 10th Mountain Division’s stand in Afghanistan. House speaker John Boehner led a session with fellow Republican congressional leaders entitled "Rebuilding the American Dream."
Brady's total tab for the outing, picked up by the institute, was $1125, including expenses for an "accompanying relative," according to the disclosure, which adds, "the security of the Members of Congress attending warrants a motorcade protected by Capitol Police." The parties stayed at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake.
Peter Overby, a National Public Radio correspondent who covered the event, asked Congressional Institute president Mark Strand about the GOP's longtime practice of financing the getaways through dues paid by its lobbyist members.
"They've decided, Republicans, that they didn't want to use taxpayer dollars to do these retreats," Strand told NPR.
"The reception and the dinner of the first night [lobbyists] attend, which is typical for, you know, most organizations in Washington, D.C., that have support," he continued. "So they just attend the reception, just the dinner, and then they go home the next morning."
Democrats conduct their own version of the strategy conferences but avoid lobbyists and instead stick taxpayers with the bill, Overby recounted.
"Now, this isn't to say advocates are barred from Democratic retreats," the NPR reporter noted. "The caucus often hears speakers from liberal think tanks and nonprofit groups. But it doesn't schmooze with lobbyists, at least not at the retreats."