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Walden Rises Up From Obscurity

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Rep. Greg Walden is the newly named chairman of the GOP leadership. He impressed Republican leaders by showing he was a good team player and by demonstrating his knowledge of campaigns.

Rep. Greg Walden (Ore.) appears to have done all the right things to win him an appointed seat at the GOP leadership table: be a good team player, prove you’ve got political and policy chops, and have friends in high places.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) tapped Walden last month to serve as the chairman of the Republican leadership, a post that has been vacant since Rep. Rob Portman (Ohio) left the House in 2005 to serve in the Bush administration. At the time, questions abounded about why Boehner would pluck a relatively obscure Member from the back benches and place him in the leadership. But Walden had a somewhat hidden portfolio: He may be National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions’ (Texas) closest friend, he had become a regular counsel for leaders on top issues, and he was willing to give up a powerful committee post to make room for the Conference’s newest lawmaker.

“We wanted to put Greg in a position where he is at the leadership table every week,” said Sessions, who last year appointed Walden to serve as his deputy chairman at the committee.

But the roots between Sessions and Walden run deeper than many political allies.

Sessions said their friendship began a decade ago when their young sons embarked on a treasure hunt together around the Congressional office buildings. Since then, Walden’s son Anthony has spent nine summers with Sessions’ family in Dallas. Sessions’ son Bill has spent three with the Waldens.

And last August, Sessions and his family spent time hiking around Oregon with the Waldens.

“Since Pete took over, he and Greg have been a team,” Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) said.

As Sessions’ right-hand man, Walden found himself meeting with the Conference leadership at least once a week.

“I began to have weekly interaction [with Republican leadership] on the campaign side,” Walden said in a recent interview with Roll Call. “That evolved to this year, they invited me to go to the leadership planning retreat in Annapolis prior to the Conference retreat. That was really the first time I had been at the leadership table.”

One GOP leadership aide said leaders were so impressed by Walden’s political savvy and knowledge of campaigns that they wanted him to be an official regular at their leader-only meetings.

“Greg has a very unique sense of Members and what makes them tick,” Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said. “He’s been a very articulate advocate of the kinds of things our new majority will be about.”

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