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Alexandria, Va., hosts a quiet hub of Republican power

Forget K Street. GOP operatives, consultants and media buyers prefer their King Street base across the Potomac from Washington.

January 20, 2011|By Matea Gold, Washington Bureau

Farther west on King, above the fabric store Calico Corners, is the office of GOP media buyer Kyle Roberts, who handled the presidential campaign account of Sen. John McCain and running mate Sarah Palin in 2008. At the same location are Scott Howell, a Dallas-based ad maker, and political consultant Blaise Hazelwood, former political director of the Republican National Committee.

Proceed west to Alfred Street. A half-block north, in a stately townhouse, is the polling firm run by Whit Ayres, who moved here from Atlanta in 2003 to be closer to the GOP political center.

"If a client comes to town to look at polling firms, you're more likely to get an interview if you're along the tracks they're walking," Ayres said.

Another block west along King are two row houses owned by Tony Fabrizio, who was chief pollster and strategist for Bob Dole's 1996 presidential bid. His unmarked office is at 915 King above Ten Thousand Villages, a store featuring fair trade crafts from countries such as Uganda and India. He shares the second floor with Multi Media Services, a media-buying firm that has placed ads for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Republican National Committee.

Next door, above a spa that offers massages and Botox treatments, is the Center for Individual Freedom, an organization formed in 1998 by a former tobacco lobbyist. Fabrizio is listed in public records as its chairman. In the recent midterm election, the center spent at least $2.5 million on negative ads against about 10 Democratic members of Congress.

There's no sign or nameplate for the center, just an unmarked buzzer next to a locked wooden door.

Take a right on North Patrick Street and left on Cameron Street to find the American Conservative Union, housed in a modest gray row house with peeling green shutters. Several blocks south, a large brick complex at 325 S. Patrick Street houses the Parents Television Council and Media Research Center, conservative watchdog groups founded by Bozell, nephew of the late arch-conservative William F. Buckley Jr.

The tour is not complete without a drive past 66 Canal Center Plaza, a modern office building along the Potomac. Suite 555 houses a battery of Republican political shops. There's Americans for Job Security, a pro-business group that ran at least $9 million worth of ads against Democrats in 2010, and Crossroads Media, which placed many of those and similar spots.

Crossroads' founder, Michael Dubke, is a partner with GOP strategist Carl Forti in another firm in Suite 555, the public affairs consultancy Black Rock Group. Forti is also political director of the nonprofit groups American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS — not to be confused with Crossroads Media — which together raised more than $70 million for conservative candidates last year.

Forti said he picked the location because the rent is cheaper than in Washington and it's close to his Mount Vernon, Va., home.

Ad maker Steve Murphy, who runs one of the few Democratic political shops in Alexandria, has another theory: "What I've noticed over the years is that Democratic firms want to be in the District of Columbia, where they are proud to associate themselves with the federal government, and Republican firms want to be in northern Virginia, where they are proud to disassociate themselves from the federal government. It really is a political cultural thing."

Tom Hamburger in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.

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