Young Nick Ayers has full-grown plans for a Republican return to the White House

By Jason Horowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 27, 2010

To call Nick Ayers the bright young future of the Republican Party is to ignore that the future has already arrived.

"We're the largest political committee in town," says Ayers, the 27-year-old executive director of the Republican Governors Association.

Ensconced a block from the White House, Ayers is a leading player in the GOP's plan to use the momentum of statewide victories in 2010 to knock President Obama out of office in 2012. The Georgia native, who left college as a 19-year-old freshman to help elect Gov. Sonny Perdue,the first Republican governor of Georgia since Reconstruction, is now a veteran Washington hand, bantering with Obama during East Wing receptions and serving as a confidant and strategist to a spate of governors, including the committee's chairman, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.

Since taking the helm in January 2007, Ayers has transformed the creaky committee into a tight ship that has attracted Republican money bundlers disillusioned with Michael Steele's Republican National Committee and its spending sprees.

On a Wednesday afternoon, Ayers, wearing a blue pinstripe suit, chunky silver watch and the blond hair of a barbershop's model book, bounds around the second-floor office. He shows off camouflage-and-shotgun pictures of himself and Barbour standing over a dead quail, or of himself and Perdue crouching over dead turkeys.

He avoids his polished desk, saying he can't sit still for too long, and steps over to the overlapping whiteboards on the wall where he drafts policy and talking points for his candidates, keeps track of their finances and lists his core principles ("No Drama," "We Are All Fundraisers"). Outside his office, he eagerly talks up his communications team, his new-media geeks and the guy who just sold an iPhone app. Almost everyone looks young enough to be carded.

Boasting a runner's build, Ayers cuts across the office, past the mostly empty gray cubicles, over to the finance team's wall. The women have taped papers to their doors reading "I {heart}" over a picture of the actor Jay Mohr. ("They think he looks like me," Ayers says sheepishly.)

He knocks on a door at the end of the hallway and mouths, "Who you on the phone with?" to a woman on a conference call. She mouths a name back, and he quietly closes the door.

"That's a big-money guy, great!" he shouts. Then he walks over to the conference room and introduces his deputy and old college-era buddy Paul Bennecke. The two reminisce about the dives they dwelled in as young advisers for Perdue.

"Everywhere you looked out our balcony you'd see rats," says Bennecke, 31, who also wears a sharp business suit.

"It was 'affordable housing,' " Ayers says, making air quotes over the words. He clarifies. "The projects."

Behind him hangs a framed 28-star American flag quilt dated 1884. "Pre me, the RGA used to spend money on art," Ayers says, disparagingly. "That's really going to help us win the Wisconsin governor's race this year. A quilt."

CONTINUED     1                 >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company