Couple give GOP candidates their all

WASHINGTON -- It probably isn't fair to compare Mike Slanker of Las Vegas to White House political adviser Karl Rove.

After all, Slanker might be more successful.

While Rove and most Republicans were still trying to recover from the carnage of the 2006 election, Slanker emerged unscathed and has moved on to bigger things.

After going six for six in his races last year, including victories for Reps. Dean Heller and Jon Porter, both R-Nev., Slanker was hired by another successful client, Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., to become the political director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Ensign also hired Slanker's wife, Lindsey, to be the committee's finance director.

"My job is so important until (September 2008), and then everything we've labored and toiled to get between now and then, Mike will spend it in a couple of weeks," said Lindsey Slanker, whose job is to help Ensign reach his goal of raising $118 million for next year's election.

Mike Slanker, 39, is a native of Salem, Ohio, who abandoned efforts to obtain an electrical engineering degree from Ohio University for a career in politics.

Lindsey Slanker, 30, was born in Slidell, La., and grew up in Picayune, Miss., before earning an education degree from Mississippi State.

Both worked briefly as political aides in Washington, D.C., before they met in Nevada during the 2000 presidential campaign.

After creating November Inc., a Las Vegas political consulting firm, they began dating two years ago and married last year before settling in Summerlin.

As bad as 2006 was for Republicans, it may turn out to be a tea party compared to what is lurking in 2008.

In the Senate, the GOP will have to defend 22 seats in next year's election. Democrats will defend 12.

Last year, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee outraised the National Republican Senatorial Committee by more than $30 million.

This year, the Democratic senatorial committee, under its chairman, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., has raised $18 million compared to $9 million for the Republican senatorial committee.

Eyebrows rose when it was reported the Slankers are earning much more than their Democratic counterparts despite the fundraising disparity.

While Mike Slanker is paid $7,990 twice per month, Lindsey Slanker receives $5,387. They've collected another $35,000 so far this year in consulting fees from the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

The higher salary helps compensate the Slankers for agreeing not to work for other clients during their stay at the committee, Mike Slanker said.

"I don't envy them," Jennifer Duffy, a political analyst who covers the Senate for the Cook Political Report, said of the Slankers.

"It's harder to raise money when you are in the minority," Duffy said.

Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says the Senate is not in play for Republicans to regain the majority in 2008, Duffy said. "The perception is not a help to them."

But the Slankers remain almost defiantly optimistic.

For example, even though Republicans haven't recruited a challenger to oppose Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., Mike Slanker is guaranteeing she will not be re-elected.

The Slankers are convinced the 2008 election will be won on a small battlefield including only a handful of states.

"Schumer is a great fund-raiser, but how many millions of dollars can you spend in Montana?" Mike Slanker said.

Slanker cites the 1998 election when Ensign came within 428 votes of ending the career of now-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

"You know, there were a lot of folks who stood up and said, 'If you run against Harry Reid and lose, you're done. If you run against Harry Reid, we're turning the switch off. You're never going to raise money again. What in the hell are you thinking?' And that's a quote," Mike Slanker said.

But even though he lost that race, it took Ensign to the next level, making him a shoo-in for the Senate two years later when Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., retired, Slanker said.

Another factor, which the Slankers say is already helping them, is the presidential candidacy of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.

"The prospect of President Clinton -- Hillary -- is a huge, huge motivator of our base. I can't accentuate it enough," Slanker said.

Lindsey Slanker said Republican donors, already fed up with a Democratic-led Congress, are beginning to increase contributions after the debacle of 2006.

Even though Ensign's fund-raising goal of $118 million for 2008 seems light years away, she refuses to back off that figure.

The Slankers also dismiss the notion that President Bush's low approval ratings are hurting their efforts.

"We still raised more than $7 million with him last month at a dinner with the (Republican) congressional committee," Lindsey Slanker said. "Our base, our faithful contributors, still look at him as the president of the United States and have a great deal of respect for him."

Matthew Miller, a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman, said the Slankers still have not recruited a single Republican candidate to challenge a Democratic senator.

But even if Democrats substantially increase their 51-49 majority in next year's election, Duffy said Ensign's career is likely to benefit.

"It will raise his profile with GOP donors and party activists," Duffy said.

As for the Slankers, they say they plan to return to Nevada no matter what happens in 2008.

"We had a great life in Las Vegas, and we plan on having a great life there again in a very short amount of time," Mike Slanker said.