Igoe works behind the scenes as GOP's secret weapon
by Josh Kurtz
Staff Writer - Gazette Newspapers
February 24, 2000
ANNAPOLIS -- On the day Montgomery County Republican Councilwoman Betty Ann Krahnke -- who suffers from myotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease -- announced her retirement last month, Kevin Igoe walked into the State House to conduct some business.
A political insider, fishing for information but not expecting any, asked Igoe half-jokingly whether any of his clients would be running for Krahnke's seat in the March 7 Republican primary. Igoe did not flinch.
"Yeah," he replied. "Howie Denis."
It was the first indication anyone had that Denis, a former state senator, would in fact be running in the special council election.
But the encounter was vintage Kevin Igoe.
Igoe, the only all-purpose Republican political consultant in this heavily Democratic state, is a virtual clearinghouse of information and gossip. Working from his home in College Park, he has built a full-time business, Igoe and Associates, helping candidates map out campaign strategy, lawmakers draft legislation, and reporters find snappy but thoughtful partisan quotes.
"He has a very good political sense," said Sen. Jean W. Roesser (R-Dist. 15) of Potomac, one of Igoe's longest-standing clients. "He articulates issues very well. He's an astute political observer, and a fighter."
It is both a testament to his abilities -- and an indication of the dearth of Republican political professionals in Maryland -- that Igoe's client list ranges from Denis, a liberal Republican in the mold of Rep. Constance ("Connie") Morella (R-Dist. 8) of Chevy Chase, to Sen. Larry E. Haines (R-Dist. 5) of Westminster, one of the state's leading social conservatives.
He is working now for Rob Sobhani, a long-shot candidate for U.S. Senate, and Del. Thomas E. Hutchins (R-Dist. 28) of La Plata, who is trying to unseat U.S. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Dist. 5) of Mechanicsville. He did some paid work and some volunteer work for Lamar Alexander's aborted presidential campaign. He helped James M. Harkins, a former legislator, become Harford County executive in 1998.
Not bad for a guy who was born into an Irish-Catholic, pro-labor Democratic household in Buffalo 49 years ago.
Igoe said he was always interested in politics. There were always lively discussions about current events at home when he was growing up.
"The one thing you didn't do was talk during Walter Cronkite," he recalled.
But Igoe eventually broke from his family politically.
"At some point, I understood that the Republican Party understood the difference between an opportunity and a handout," he said.
Not just speeches
Today, Igoe said, his mother is not sure what he does for a living.
"I write speeches for politicians," he said he tries to explain.
But that does not explain things fully.
Igoe came to the area in the 1970s, a master's degree in public administration in hand. He worked for the Treasury Department and the Defense Department. In 1980, at the tender age of 30, he ran unsuccessfully for Congress in Prince George's County against Gladys Spellman. Then he worked for the Reagan administration as a congressional liaison.
From 1990 to 1992, Igoe served as executive director of the Maryland Republican Party, working in tandem with GOP Chairwoman Joyce Lyons Terhes, who remains a close friend and political sponsor to this day. It was a period of extraordinary growth for the state GOP, and Igoe established an extensive network of contacts in Maryland. But he did not use them right away. Instead, he spent two more years on Capitol Hill as a top aide to Jack Quinn, a Buffalo-area congressman.
In 1994, Igoe hung out his shingle as an all-purpose Republican consultant. Most of his clients have been in Maryland, though some have been in Florida -- a nice bonus during the winter.
Haines said Igoe seems to know everyone and everything that is going on.
"He's very good with local, state and national politics," he said. "He's on top of all of it."
In addition to getting steady work, Igoe is now a favorite source for reporters looking for gossip or insight into Maryland Republican politics.
Sobhani, the Senate candidate, said he met Igoe years earlier, but only thought about hiring him as a campaign consultant after listening to him several times on Lee's show.
"I kept on seeing him. I thought, 'He must know something,' " Sobhani said.
Ask Igoe what he does for politicians, and you get a clinical recitation: strategy, tactics, campaign planning and budgeting, direct mail, voter contact -- the staples of political life. But a better barometer is two days he spent in Annapolis last week.
On Monday, Igoe was with Sobhani at GOP state headquarters. Sobhani was there to pick up the endorsement of state Sen. Patrick J. Hogan (R-Dist. 39) of Gaithersburg, Prince George's County Councilwoman Audrey E. Scott (R-Dist. 4) of Bowie, Terhes and former Del. John S. Morgan, another former Igoe client.
Before the event, Sobhani enthused to Igoe that the announcement would probably be a front-page story in certain papers. Igoe had to break the news to him gently. In fact, only one reporter showed up. But Igoe did arrange for Sobhani to call a radio station and the Associated Press later. He set up a meeting with journalists in Southern Maryland. He took the news release about the endorsements to the State House pressroom to distribute to other reporters.
"I'm pleased with the progress he's made," Igoe said of his neophyte candidate.
On Tuesday, Igoe was in the James Senate Office Building, where the Senate Finance Committee was holding a hearing on Roesser's bill to limit nuisance calls from telemarketers. The bill has received a lot of media attention in the past two years, and Tuesday was no exception. Igoe watched like an expectant father in the hallway as Roesser did a television interview. Then he leaned against a wall in the back of the committee room to watch the hearing.
Because he is self-employed, Igoe said he spends about a third of his time hustling up more business, marketing himself. When you are used to marketing politicians, it is not all that difficult.
He said it also is not difficult working for candidates he knows probably will not win. He is up front with them about their potential, he said, but also wants their expectations to remain realistic.
"In Maryland, I think you know that starting out a statewide race, especially against an incumbent, you know you're going to have an uphill battle," he said. "But it's part of the building process for the party."
Win or lose, it is also a building process for Igoe and Associates. Business is steady enough that he and his wife, who works for Fannie Mae in Washington, are building a new house in Calvert County that they will move to this fall -- the new headquarters for Igoe and Associates.