The National Republican Congressional Committee is bullish about its plans to improve the GOP's 240-seat majority this cycle.
A new recruitment team will meet for the first time today to discuss prospects in Democratic districts and redistricting changes that could create new GOP pick-up opportunities.
House Republicans have signed 16 Members to their recruitment team this cycle, including 11 freshmen.
"I think it reflects the diversity of our conference, but it also reflects the fact that we're staying on offense," NRCC Recruitment Vice Chairman Steve Scalise (La.) told Roll Call. "Not only did we already do well last year, but we'll have more opportunities to win more seats next year."
Republicans made historic gains in the House last cycle, so it's going to be tough to increase those margins in the majority. But House GOP leaders argue the opportunities are there.
Reps. Steve Stivers (Ohio) and Rick Berg (N.D.) have already signed on to serve as Scalise's deputies for recruitment.
"I'm also excited that 11 of the 16 members of this committee are freshmen," Stivers said. "I think they bring real, fresh perspectives and they understand campaigns because they just went through them."
In an unusual twist, Berg could recruit candidates for his own seat. Scalise said Berg signed on before he decided to run for the open North Dakota Senate seat.
The recruitment team's geographical diversity suggests in which parts of the country Republicans see pickup opportunities.
For example, McHenry, one of the most senior Republicans on the team, will help recruit candidates in North Carolina. Republicans failed to knock off several vulnerable Democrats in the Tar Heel State last cycle, but the GOP-led redraw of the Congressional map will create some prime pickup opportunities.
There are also several recruitment team Members from California. The state has traditionally hosted very few competitive races, but an independent commission is drafting new lines this year that will change that. Members are bracing themselves for a new Congressional map that could completely redraw House district boundaries and move many incumbents into the same districts.
There also are team members from Florida, which is gaining two seats, and Arizona and Washington state, which each will gain one seat.
There are no recruitment team members from Texas, which holds the biggest redistricting prize of all: four new House seats. NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) will include recruitment in the Lone Star State under his purview.
"There's an acknowledgement that Sessions, as chairman of the NRCC, doesn't need a Texan on the recruitment committee and can take care of that himself," Stivers said.
Once again this cycle, Republicans will be on the lookout for "community leaders" — such as Fincher, who was one of their most-touted recruits last cycle. A gospel singer and farmer, Fincher jumped into the race against then-Rep. John Tanner early on in the cycle, before the 11-term Democrat announced his retirement.
The NRCC continued to back Fincher throughout the GOP primary, even though the committee typically remains neutral in primaries. Now Republicans, including Scalise, hold up Fincher as the "poster child" for solid early recruits.
Scalise and Stivers emphasized existing recruitment successes, such as Andy Barr in Kentucky. Barr narrowly lost his challenge to Rep. Ben Chandler in 2010, but he announced last month that he'll try a second time to unseat the Democrat.
"I think he's going to be one of our successful candidates, and there's going to be more to come," Scalise boasted.
Stivers said he's spoken with 25 potential candidates across the country so far this cycle. Seven of those candidates have already announced campaigns, including former Ambassador Ann Wagner for an open seat in Missouri.
Wagner and attorney Ed Martin are facing off in the GOP primary for Rep. Todd Akin's (R) seat. Akin is running for Senate.
"We are not picking one candidate over the other," Stivers said. "The Young Guns program is open to all candidates. I've talked to her, and I'm sure some people have talked to her primary opponents as well."
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