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Political strategist likes view from the Hill

May 21, 2001

Political strategist likes view from the Hill



By ANDREA BROWN-HURLEY

andreabh@herald-mail.com

A Hagerstown native found her thrill on Capitol Hill.

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Cheri Jacobus, a North Hagerstown High School graduate and former Miss Washington County, left her hometown for Washington nearly 20 years ago because she was drawn to the excitement of the nation's capitol and wanted to "get involved in something important," she said.

She forged a career in politics with hard work and determination. And, in general, she's had a lot of fun doing it, she said.

Jacobus, 41, now owns a Washington-based political consulting and public affairs firm called Capitol Strategies. The business has enabled the staunch Republican to capitalize on her wealth of political experience.

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She has managed GOP political campaigns, lobbied for conservative causes, helped shape policy, and served as a voice for her party.

"I think I have a record of delivering results," Jacobus said.

Jacobus engineered the surprise near upset in 1988 of then unknown Republican congressional candidate Wayne Gilchrest against Maryland Rep. Roy Dyson. Gilchrest gained national media attention by coming within 1,000 votes of defeating the incumbent despite being outspent by more than six to one.

Jacobus, who served as Gilchrest's campaign manager and chief political strategist, devised a "smart schedule" for her client because he didn't have much time left in his campaign and capitalized on all forms of media to spread his message, she said.

Gilchrest, R-Md., won his congressional seat in 1990 and is now serving his sixth term. Dyson has been a state senator since 1995.

Jacobus helped coordinate a massive grassroots campaign to repeal the boat luxury tax that President George H.W. Bush and the Democratic majority in Congress agreed to levy in 1990.

Instead of paying the 10 percent federal tax on new boat purchases of $10,000 or more, many potential boat buyers bowed out or bought their boats oversees. The domestic boat-building business was crippled.

Working for the National Marine Manufacturer's Association, Jacobus gathered more than 400 unemployed boat builders for a rally in Washington, and finessed a media campaign that garnered national attention for the cause.

The first thing Jacobus did after Congress repealed the tax in 1993, she said, was call her parents.

Named U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett's press secretary in 1993, Jacobus helped right the then freshman congressman's "off-base" image by spotlighting her boss's accessibility, humble roots and fiscal conservatism, she said.

Jacobus spearheaded Bartlett's effort to expose abuse of power by Clinton aides when a top Clinton staff member used the presidential helicopter for a golf outing in Frederick, Md.

The Clinton aide resigned, taxpayers were reimbursed, and Bartlett, R-Md., received positive national and local press coverage, Jacobus said.

She worked as a legislative aide to former House Republican Leader Bob Michel, press secretary to former Secretary of Agriculture John Block, and deputy communications director for the Republican National Committee.

She landed a key position on Capitol Hill after the Republican takeover of Congress in 1995.

As communications director for the House Education and Workforce Committee from 1995 to 1997, Jacobus acted as press spokesperson, directed press relations for the committee's issues in Congress, and incorporated communications strategy into issue development to help shape policy, she said.

Jacobus helped get a labor bill dealing with comp time signed into law by putting a human face on the issue for legislators and the press. She worked to get support for the bill by turning it into a working women's issue, she said.

Jacobus firmly believes that communications and policy should go hand-in-hand.

"Sometimes I think the two worlds don't collide enough," she said. "Policy initiatives in a vacuum don't go anywhere. You have to be able to explain the policy and the process in a way that people can understand and care about."

Her ability to articulate has made Jacobus a hot commodity on the TV political talk circuit.

She has logged more than 100 network TV appearances as a political commentator on MSNBC, Fox News, "The O'Reilly Factor" and "The Montel Williams Show."

She once left for a taping in New York at 5:45 a.m. and was back in her office working before 1 p.m. At times, she's counted layers of TV makeup on her face after back-to-back appearances, she said.

Jacobus said she tries to make her points directly while avoiding the screaming matches that can erupt among opposing political commentators on television, she said.

"I don't like smash punditry," she said.

Jacobus especially enjoyed her recent stint on "Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher" - an experience that was "really great" but "very Hollywood," she said.

Jacobus was the only guest star without an entourage.

Her reputation has opened many doors for Jacobus, but her success didn't come without sacrifice, she said.

"You pretty much have to make your own luck and find opportunities. You really have to work hard for it and pay for it. There's always a price to pay," she said.

Her price was the many long hours she spent climbing Capitol Hill and following campaign trails in the early years of her career, Jacobus said.

Now self-employed, she has more freedom to pursue a variety of clients. She can take longer vacations. She hopes to someday to write a syndicated political column.

But Jacobus still thrives on the excitement of a good political campaign, she said.

She has maintained professional ties in her home state, and hopes now to increase her involvement in upcoming Maryland political campaigns.

"I think the Republicans could be doing more in Maryland. Our time has come," Jacobus said. "I firmly believe a Republican could win statewide in Maryland."

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