Lobbyists won't hesitate to break in Franken

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Being the new guy in town has a lot of perks, particularly when you are used to being in the spotlight as a semi-celeb from New York. Everyone wants to meet you, shake your hand, stalk you, be your BFF.

But let's not forget the pains of coming to the game a little later than the other freshman members of Congress. Al Franken, who will likely be sworn in as Minnesota senator next week, has all eyes on him, even those pesky lobbyists who see him as potentially naive and impressionable.

Lobbyists are already talking strategy when it comes to getting on Franken's good side. It's all about tricking him into thinking you are buds and then you get whatever funding you want. Such is the life of Capitol Hill. Newsweek talked to D.C. lobbyists about their strategy and how they wade into uncharted territory with newbies.

Lobbyists are often looking out for pricey legislation, so the game gets competitive when it comes to big issues like climate change, health care, and economic stimulus. To get yet another senator on your side at this point is crucial. Newsweek calls the price for Franken's ear high as he makes his way east.

So how do lobbyists play the game? "The first move is always from the member," one lobbyist told Newsweek. It's all about figuring out Franken's willingness to hear out a lobbyist in the first place. "We usually take the temperature of a new member by word of mouth, hearing about his reputation from other folks around town."

More from Newsweek:
Someone new like Franken will come into the senate with a solid amount of political naiveté, but no member is ever a blank canvas. By reviewing the issues that a candidate ran on during his campaign, a lobby firm can reasonably ascertain where the member stands on certain issues. Franken ran as a liberal Democrat, so it's already clear he'll be a supporting vote for the party's health care initiative and the confirmation of Justice Sotomayor.

But it's the unknown territory where the member may be most susceptible. "Lots of us are lining up to see where he might not have a defined position," says Vin Weber a former GOP congressman from Minnesota who's now a registered lobbyist with DC firm Clark and Weinstock.

People will be bombarding Franken's office, to be sure. But the better way to a member's legislative thinking is by having a soft touch. "You don't want to annoy the member, or he'll shut you out" says another lobbyist. It's hard to get far with a member, he says, if he doesn't trust you. Better strategy is to find an issue that interests them, then find a way to make him want to meet to talk about it.
Franken has a balancing act to play too. He can't look like a political hack hanging out with the lobbyists and proposing legislation that fits their needs. He's got a lot of people back here in Minnesota who don't like him already, so he has a lot of voters to win over. About 58 percent of Minnesotans didn't vote for Franken (although Newsweek quotes someone saying it was only 49.999 percent).

If there's any senator who will be more closely watched, we can't think of one. Best of luck, Franken. Life under the microscope sure gets hot.

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