J. Scott Jennings
October 26, 1977|
Dawson Springs, Kentucky,
|Education||University of Louisville (BA)|
Jeffery Scott Jennings (born October 26, 1977), was a political appointee in the administration of George W. Bush, and is now a public relations executive and conservative commentator.
President Bush appointed Jennings to the position of Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of Political Affairs on October 17, 2005. The White House announced the move in February 2006. Jennings had previously served as Executive Director of the Bush-Cheney campaign in New Mexico in 2004, and as a staff member of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Kentucky in 2000.
Today, Jennings is a founding partner of RunSwitch Public Relations, Kentucky's largest public relations and public affairs since 2013. He has been writing a regular column for the Louisville Courier-Journal since 2013, and was signed as an on-air contributor by CNN in 2017.  He is routinely cited as an adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in news publications, and he was part of McConnell's campaigns for the U.S. Senate in 2002, 2008, and 2014.
Jennings is a visible presence on the speaking circuit, briefing groups on the political landscape and taking part in entertaining panel discussions.
- 1 Personal
- 2 Career
- 2.1 Bush 2004 campaign in New Mexico
- 2.2 Political operations in Kentucky
- 2.3 GSA Inquiry
- 2.4 Dismissal of United States Attorneys controversy
- 2.5 White House and RNC Email Accounts
- 2.6 Jennings Helps Brett Guthrie Win Congressional Seat in 2008
- 2.7 Involvement in 2014 U.S. Senate Election in Kentucky
- 2.8 Involvement in 2016 Kentucky State Legislative Races
- 2.9 Columnist for Louisville Courier-Journal
- 2.10 Jennings Serves as Emcee of Fancy Farm Political Picnic
- 2.11 Jennings Joins CNN
- 2.12 Jennings Named Resident Fellow at Harvard's Institute of Politics
- 3 References
- 4 External links
Jennings is a native of Dawson Springs, Kentucky and graduated from high school there in 1996. Jennings was a Coca-Cola National Scholar and featured in the Foundation's magazine in 2006. He received his bachelor's degree from the University of Louisville in 2000 where he was a McConnell Scholar. While a student at the University of Louisville, he was a news anchor and reporter for WHAS Radio. While at WHAS, Jennings won an award from the Associated Press for a several-part series on the plight of the homeless living in downtown Louisville.
Jennings is married to Autumn Stiff Jennings, of Whitesville, KY. They have four children. Jennings and his family live in Prospect, KY.
Jennings served as political director for President Bush's 2000 Kentucky campaign, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in his 2002 re-election campaign, Gov. Ernie Fletcher in his 2003 campaign, and managed President Bush's campaign in New Mexico in 2004, before joining the White House. New Mexico was one of only two states to flip from blue to red in between 2000 and 2004; the other was Iowa. He served as Associate Director in the Office of Political Affairs at the White House before being named Special Assistant to the President in October 2005.
After leaving the White House, Scott Jennings moved back to Kentucky and was Director of Strategic Development and Senior Strategist for Peritus Public Relations in Louisville, KY, before co-founding RunSwitch PR in Louisville in 2012. Jennings is frequently quoted by media outlets as a political analyst. During the 2016 presidential election, Jennings appeared frequently on the Fox News Channel and other outlets as a commentator discussing polling and the political news of the day.
In 2017, Jennings joined CNN as an on-air contributor. He has made hundreds of appearances on the network and is typically on shows like AC360 with Anderson Cooper, The Lead with Jake Tapper, and CNN Tonight with Don Lemon. He also writes regular opinion pieces for CNN.com. In a 2017 appearance on CNN, Jennings used the cultural catch phrase "Bye, Felicia" to bid farewell to the old tax code after Republicans in Congress passed their tax overhaul.
Bush 2004 campaign in New Mexico
After losing New Mexico to Al Gore in 2000 by just 366 votes, President Bush's reelection set its sights on claiming the only state that borders Texas not to go for President Bush in 2000. To that end, the campaign dispatched Jennings to manage its operations. Jennings arrived in early 2004 to find a divided state Republican Party. Shortly after his arrival, the state party chairman, State Senator Ramsay Gorham, resigned both her chairmanship and legislative seat and moved out of the state. Jennings and Republican Party counterpart Jay McCleskey set about repairing the damaged party, trying to focus activists on the campaign at hand rather than the factionalism. The two worked together to recruit fifteen-thousand volunteers who operated phone banks, went door to door, and executed a grassroots strategy that relied heavily on peer-to-peer, coalition-based activity. The Democratic establishment spent millions of dollars in the state through the Kerry for President Campaign, the state Democratic Party, and through a host of third-party organizations such as American Coming Together and Moveon.org. The Democrats relied primarily on paid workers; the Bush Campaign and Republican Party utilized mostly volunteer manpower. Bush won the New Mexico election by 5,988 votes, making it one of the closest states in the nation. Along with only Iowa, New Mexico flipped from Democrat to Republican between 2000 and 2004.
Political operations in Kentucky
Between 2000 and 2003, Jennings directed the political operations for George W. Bush's presidential campaign, Senator Mitch McConnell's reelection campaign, and Ernie Fletcher's gubernatorial campaign. All three were winners. Bush defeated Al Gore in Kentucky, a state Bill Clinton won twice, with 56.5%, McConnell set a record by scoring 65% in his campaign, and Fletcher became the first Republican governor in Kentucky in over 30 years by winning 55% of the vote. Jennings would go on to resume his work in Kentucky in 2008, helping U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, Congressman Brett Guthrie, and state legislative Republicans win numerous races.
Jennings was mentioned in an inquiry into the politicization of the General Services Administration (GSA). At a Congressional hearing in March 2007, witnesses testified that on January 26, 2007, Jennings was present at a meeting where GSA Administrator Lurita Doan "joined in a video conference earlier this year with top GSA political appointees, who discussed ways to help Republican candidates." On April 23, 2007 the U.S. Office of Special Counsel announced it was investigating the January video conference, to look at whether the political dealings of the White House have violated the Hatch Act.
While the OSC has found that Doan violated the Hatch Act, Elaine Kaplan, Special Counsel during the Clinton Administration, said that "nothing in the OSC's investigative report suggests that anything improper had occurred before Doan initiated the discussion." Jennings' presentation was similar in nature to several others disclosed by the White House. In fact, political briefings were routinely given to appointees in previous administrations as well, according to publications and news articles. Special Counsel Scott Bloch told the Washington Post, "Political forecasts, just generally . . . I do not regard as illegal political activity." The White House has said that these briefings were purely informational and did not violate any rules. Here's how White House Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino described the briefings to reporters: "It's not unlawful and it wasn't unusual for informational briefings to be given," Perino said. "There is no prohibition under the Hatch Act of allowing political appointees to talk to other political appointees about the political landscape in which they are trying to advance the president's agenda." She added: "These briefings were not inappropriate, they were not unlawful, they were not unethical."
Dismissal of United States Attorneys controversy
|Dismissal of U.S. attorneys controversy|
Jennings was involved in the dismissal of U.S. attorneys controversy in early 2007, and was among the White House Staff for whom House and Senate Judiciary Subcommittees authorized subpoenas in March. He testified on August 2, 2007 before the Judiciary Committee, invoking executive privilege and refusing to answer most questions.
However, subsequently published e-mails reflect that Jennings was directly involved in the firing of New Mexico US Attorney David Iglesias, writing in one e-mail to a White House staffer, "Iglesias has done nothing," and to another, "We are getting killed out there," adding that the White House "move forward with getting rid of the NM USATTY."
White House and RNC Email Accounts
In the months leading up to the dismissal of United States attorneys controversy, Jennings communicated with Justice Department officials "concerning the appointment of Tim Griffin, a former Rove aide, as U.S. attorney in Little Rock, according to e-mails released [in March, 2007]. For that exchange, Jennings, although working at the White House, used an e-mail account registered to the Republican National Committee (RNC), where Griffin had worked as a political opposition researcher." The e-mail account was on gwb43.com, a previously unknown domain, hosted on an RNC mail server. Several White House officials were issued private email accounts so they could be extra cautious.
Jennings Helps Brett Guthrie Win Congressional Seat in 2008
In 2008, in addition to serving as an adviser to Mitch McConnell's reelection campaign, Jennings served as the General Consultant to Brett Guthrie, the Republican running for Congress in the open seat in Kentucky's second congressional district. While Guthrie was a little known state Senator to begin the race, he wound up winning despite being outspent by Democratic forces, which included his opponent David Boswell and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Jennings remains a top political adviser to Guthrie, with his firm RunSwitch continuing to manage Guthrie's campaign committee.
Involvement in 2014 U.S. Senate Election in Kentucky
Jennings ran a super PAC known as Kentuckians for Strong Leadership during the 2014 U.S. Senate election in Kentucky that supported the re-election of Mitch McConnell. In July 2014, Jennings told WFPL "I think the party is coming together just fine and I don't detect any problems for McConnell on GOP unity."
The Jennings-led super PAC was wildly successful in the 2014 election, leading one observor to call Jennings the "third major player"  in the race behind the candidates themselves (Mitch McConnell and Alison Grimes). McConnell handily defeated Grimes, as Kentuckians for Strong Leadership blanketed Kentucky airwaves for months with effective radio and television advertising portraying Grimes as an adherent to the agenda of President Barack Obama.
During the race, Jennings was profiled in The New Yorker magazine, which dubbed him "the master of attack."  After the race, Kentucky political news show "Pure Politics" interviewed Jennings and said that he had "shaped the race in McConnell's favor."  The program stated: "In Jennings, McConnell has found a powerful ally with which to wage modern political warfare."
Involvement in 2016 Kentucky State Legislative Races
In 2016, Jennings' super PAC, Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, took on a new mission—helping Republicans gain control of the Kentucky state House of Representatives. KSL spent $2 million on 19 legislative races as the GOP went from a 53-47 minority to a 64-36 super majority. Republicans had not controlled the Kentucky house in nearly 100 years.
Following the election, "Pure Politics" again profiled Jennings, crediting KSL with helping the GOP achieve its objective. The group created quite a stir in the closing days of the campaign by sending thousands of Hillary Clinton birthday cards to voters across the state, asking them to "ruin Hillary's birthday" by voting against Clinton and "every Clinton Democrat running."
Columnist for Louisville Courier-Journal
Jennings became a contributing columnist to the Louisville Courier-Journal in 2013, and writes a conservative column that appears every third Wednesday in the Gannet paper. Jennings' has also been published by USA TODAY. In Jennings' columns for the Louisville newspaper, he tackles policy and political issues affecting Kentucky and the nation. In 2018, Jennings won a Society of Professional Journalists award for his Courier-Journal writing. Jennings' writing also appears on RealClearPolitics from time to time.
Jennings Serves as Emcee of Fancy Farm Political Picnic
In 2016, Jennings was chosen by the organizers of the Fancy Farm political picnic to serve as emcee. The annual political event, dating back to 1880, attracts Kentucky politicians for old-fashioned stump speaking. Jennings appointment as emcee did not come without minor controversy, as Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo announced he would not attend the picnic despite a history of alternating between Democrats and Republicans to handle the emcee duties.
Jennings delivered an even-handed monologue, landing jokes at the expense of politicians in both parties. Prior to the picnic's broadcast on Kentucky Educational Television, Jennings was profiled in a segment hosted by Bill Goodman.
Jennings Joins CNN
It was announced in June 2017 that Jennings had joined CNN as an exclusive political contributor, along with former Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook, former Kasich chief strategist John Weaver, former Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli, Obama national security alum Shawn Turner and Yale Law School associate dean and former FBI special agent Asha Rangappa.
Around the time Jennings joined CNN, it was reported in various news outlets that he had been offered but turned down a senior role in the Trump White House.
Jennings Named Resident Fellow at Harvard's Institute of Politics
Jennings was named a resident fellow at the Harvard Institute of Politics (housed in the Kennedy School of Government) for the Spring 2018 semester. He taught a series of seminars on tribalism in American politics, and attracted guest lecturers to his class like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and former White House Chief of Staff and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus.
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- "Trump and McConnell Strive for Comity Amid Rising Tensions". The New York Times. 2017-10-16. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-05-31.
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- Scott Higham; Robert O'Harrow Jr. (March 26, 2007). "GSA Chief Is Accused of Playing Politics: Doan Denies 'Improper' Use of Agency for GOP". Washington Post. p. A01.
- Scott Higham; Robert O'Harrow Jr. (April 24, 2007). "GSA Briefing Now Part Of Wider Investigation". Washington Post. p. A03.
- "Political Briefings At Agencies Disclosed". washingtonpost.com. Retrieved September 30, 2015.
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- Tom Hamburger and David G. Savage (August 12, 2009). "Karl Rove took active role in U.S. attorney's firing, documents show". Los Angeles Times.
- Bailey, Phillip M. (July 21, 2014). "Mitch McConnell's Aid to Mississippi Republican Incumbent Angers Kentucky Tea Party Activists". WFPL News. Retrieved July 21, 2014.
- Cross, Al (2014-11-23). "Kentucky's U.S. Senate race: The man who made himself the third major player in the race wouldn't mind if candidates had more control". Kentucky's U.S. Senate race. Retrieved 2016-12-24.
- "American Derby". NYMag.com. Retrieved 2016-12-24.
- "How Republican Scott Jennings and his political ad machines helped shape the Senate race in McConnell's favor". cn|2. Retrieved 2016-12-24.
- "How the man behind a major PAC says GOP independent expenditure groups helped to take control of the House". cn|2. Retrieved 2016-12-24.
- "Republican PAC sends Clinton birthday greetings". The Courier-Journal. Retrieved 2016-12-24.
- "Respect the will of Republican voters: Opposing view". USA TODAY. Retrieved 2016-12-24.
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- "Scott Jennings | Author | RealClearPolitics". www.realclearpolitics.com. Retrieved 2018-07-30.
- "The Senate HEALTH CARE BILL is here, but FOUR Rs OPPOSE it -- TRUMP says he has no TAPES of Comey -- Group of Dems plot opposition to PELOSI -- MAHTESIAN on why the suburbs will be a nightmare for the GOP". POLITICO. Retrieved 2018-05-31.
- "Report: Louisville conservative Scott Jennings offered position in Trump administration". The Courier-Journal. Retrieved 2018-05-31.
- "Scott Jennings to talk tribalism, party system as spring fellow at Harvard Kennedy School". The Courier-Journal. Retrieved 2018-05-31.
- "Mitch McConnell Meets Students, Faust on Quiet Visit to Harvard | News | The Harvard Crimson". www.thecrimson.com. Retrieved 2018-05-31.
- "A Conversation with Reince Priebus". The Institute of Politics at Harvard University. Retrieved 2018-05-31.
- Biography of Jennings at the Web site for The Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars