Rep. Greg Walden is taking steps toward a run for chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
The Oregon lawmaker told Roll Call that he has reached out to leadership and rank-and-file Members to gauge support and signal that he’s interested in the job. The response has been supportive and encouraging, Walden said in an interview.
“I certainly would be interested in doing that if the Conference decides that I’d be the one to do it,” he said.
While Walden presumes nothing, well-placed GOP sources said the job is essentially his if he wants it. Having served as deputy chairman at the NRCC for the past two cycles under Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas), his tenure drew nothing but praise from several Republicans interviewed.
“He definitely has staff support, Member support and leadership support,” one House Republican aide said. “Basically, it’s his to refuse.”
Walden need look no further than the current chairman for support. In a brief interview, Sessions said Walden has “been exceptional for four years.” He continued: “If he chooses to, I think he would make a great chairman of the NRCC.”
Now in his seventh term, the 55-year-old Walden said he will remain focused until November on keeping, or even expanding, the GOP majority.
But with the elections just three months away, Walden said he felt he needed to communicate to his colleagues — who will vote on leadership positions after the elections — what his intentions are for the 2014 cycle.
“Given the work that Chairman Sessions has done, there is strong Conference support for continuing in the framework that he created over there — the very Member- driven organization,” Walden said. “Having been his deputy for three and a half years, the concept of a bridge to kind of carry on and continue the same concept for a cycle or two makes sense.”
Things aren’t as clear on the other side of the aisle, though sources said the choice to serve another term as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will likely be Rep. Steve Israel’s (N.Y.) to make.
“Caucus members were pleased with how quickly Israel got the DCCC up off the mat after 2010, and there’s a general sense if he wanted to do it again, it would be an option for him,” one Democratic Capitol Hill aide said. “Especially if Democrats get within range of taking the majority next time around.”
A Democratic strategist agreed but noted that several wild-card factors could affect the situation. Should Democrats lose seats in November, the Caucus may push for new DCCC leadership. And if Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) opts to resign instead of serving another term in the minority, someone new would be appointing the chairman. (In the House Democratic Caucus, the campaign committee chairmanship is not an elected position.)
“I would be shocked if someone other than Steve Israel is running the DCCC next cycle,” the strategist said. “But if he declines or isn’t asked, you have Allyson Schwartz,” the Pennsylvania lawmaker who is serving as the DCCC’s national chairwoman for recruiting and candidate services.
The dark-horse successors might include Reps. Jared Polis (Colo.) and Joe Crowley (N.Y.), who are currently in the hunt for Caucus vice chairman. Beyond that, it’s unclear who else might be interested.
Walden is described by Republican sources as having a positive presence at the NRCC and being generous with his time.
He can often be found chatting with staffers in the hallways about random races, and committee staffers generally enjoy working for both Sessions and Walden. Their partnership has been credited with helping put the GOP back in the majority in 2010 and in a strong position to hold the majority in 2012.
It was Walden’s willingness to be a team player that first earned him a seat at the leadership table. After Walden relinquished his spot on the Energy and Commerce Committee for a party-switcher, then-Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) appointed him as Republican leadership chairman in February 2010 — a post that had gone vacant since 2005.
His role at the NRCC has exceeded those of other deputies in recent memory, and he’s often by Sessions’ side at briefings with reporters. Sessions, who appointed his friend as deputy chairman in 2009, said Walden “attends meetings with me, for me, [and] speaks on behalf of the committee, which is unprecedented. The committee has never authorized a deputy chairman ever to speak for the committee in the past that I’m aware of.”
Sessions and several other sources noted Walden’s success leading the committee’s 2010 “selling the fight” initiative, part of which was to reach out to the business and downtown communities to sell the fact that Republicans could win the majority and that it was important they get on board. Down by 39 seats on Election Day 2010, House Republicans picked up a net of 63 seats.
Beyond his performance at the NRCC, it’s also Walden’s background that Republicans find appealing.
His father served in the Oregon Legislature, and Walden still remembers the margins of his dad’s last three races. Walden was elected to the state Legislature as well, serving in 1992 as the state House Majority Leader, which included the responsibility of leading the party’s campaign efforts.
Before that, he worked on the campaigns of former Republican Reps. Sidney Morrison (Wash.) and Denny Smith (Ore.), then served as Smith’s press secretary and chief of staff on Capitol Hill.
“He really understands the inside and outs of both campaigning and the internal workings of Capitol Hill,” a former NRCC senior operative said. “In that respect, he’s uniquely suited for the job.”
Going forward, Walden said he’ll continue his outreach to Members, but his busy travel schedule and the upcoming elections will take the vast majority of his time.
“You kind of have to have some of these discussions now,” he said, “but the real discussion is about how do we win our races, how do we grow our majority.”