Politics & Policy

Oppo-Research Ace Joe Pounder Joins Rubio Campaign

Joe Pounder (image via Twitter)

Joe Pounder, a well-respected GOP operative, is joining Marco Rubio’s campaign as a senior adviser, in a late-season coup for the Florida senator.

Pounder currently serves as president of America Rising, the GOP opposition-research group he helped found with Matt Rhoades, who served as Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign manager, and Tim Miller, who is now Jeb Bush’s communications director. He will leave America Rising, which is remaining neutral in the GOP primary, to join the Rubio campaign.

It’s been a good two weeks for Rubio. Following an impressive debate performance last week in Boulder, he announced the support of billionaire donor Paul Singer. Earlier this week, he rolled out the endorsements of fellow senators Cory Gardner, Jim Risch, and Steve Daines, and South Dakota representative Kristi Noem announced her endorsement Friday. On a relative scale, Pounder has a much lower profile.

But his commitment is a shot across the bow at other campaigns as Rubio works to deal with the increased scrutiny and attacks that have accompanied his moment in the sun. Bringing on someone like Pounder, who can help push back on those attacks and turn the tables on Rubio’s opponents, is a sign of how the campaign intends to deal with the new onslaught. Of course, bringing on one of the party’s top opposition researchers, other campaigns wryly note, doesn’t exactly square with Rubio’s declarations after the debate that he would not attack his opponents, except to draw out differences on policy.

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“Joe can rattle off when somebody said something, and how they said it, and how their positions have changed over the years just by memory,” says Kevin Madden, who first worked with Pounder on George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign. “That is invaluable.”

One Republican who worked closely with Pounder credits him with revolutionizing the way the party does opposition research, ushering in an age where opposition research and rapid response are living, breathing things that move with the news cycle and social media.

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More importantly, a number of Republicans said, Pounder is more than a one-trick pony. He is a master of opposition research, but he also understands how best to put that information to use in other parts of a campaign, making sure that research and communications teams work in sync with each other.

“I knew any time that I went out with something that Joe and I worked on together that I had it locked down and it was going to make me a more effective spokesperson as a result,” says Madden.

#share#That Pounder would lean toward Rubio should not come as a huge surprise: He was the deputy campaign manager on Rubio’s 2010 Senate bid, where he earned a reputation for wearing fleece vests in the office, regardless of the Florida heat. Reuniting with Pounder has been a goal for some time, according to a source close to the Rubio campaign. Rubio’s team includes many veterans of the 2010 campaign, which means that Pounder is not coming in as an outsider — he is returning to a culture that he knows well to help out a familiar candidate whom he understands.

Republicans who have worked with Pounder in the past describe him as the guy who made the trains run on time, and who, in addition to his own personal abilities, was able to make sure that everything around him worked in coordination.

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“What differentiates Joe is he’s created systems that can work when he’s not running the ship every second,” says the Republican who has worked closely with Pounder. “The decisions below him and around him get made the right way because of the systems that he’s built.”

That infrastructure helps prevent a campaign from getting derailed by reactions to the unpredictable day-to-day news cycle.

“Joe sees around the corner almost. He kind of sees three moves down the road,” says Brian Baker, president of Ending Spending.

#related#Conversations with a dozen current and former Republican operatives who have worked with Pounder in varying capacities yielded not a single negative word about him. To a one, people describe him as a good guy in an industry that has its fair share of jerks. “He’s a genuinely good person. He just has a really sunny, optimistic demeanor. He’s soft-spoken, he’s a bit baby-faced, but he’s a fierce competitor who also happens to be very kind — that is an interesting combination that you don’t often come across in politics,” says Jill Hazelbaker, who worked with Pounder when she was the communications director for John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Even those working for other candidates, who might end up on the receiving end of Pounder’s opposition-research prowess, have nothing but kind words.

“Pounder is one of the best people and operatives I know,” e-mails Miller, Bush’s communications director. “Marco’s lucky to have him.”

— Alexis Levinson is the senior political reporter for National Review.

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