Growing up, Rep. Greg Walden was a Boy Scout.
He worked hard and earned badge after badge, finally accruing the highest honor: Eagle Scout.
The Oregon lawmaker earned a new title on Wednesday: chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
He takes the reins of the organization — which took the House majority in 2010 and kept it in 2012 — from a fellow Eagle Scout, Texas Rep. Pete Sessions.
And Walden plans to drive the organization forward on the path that Sessions has cemented over two terms.
“Pete’s been this transformational figure,” Walden said in an interview. “Transforming this organization into something it’s never been before. My goal is to build on that foundation.”
Walden has been Sessions’ key deputy since the Texan took over the then-moribund committee in 2008. Two years later the committee oversaw an operation that netted the GOP the House majority and gave John A. Boehner of Ohio the speakership.
In every important meeting, Sessions said, “I sat at the end of the table. Right next to me: Greg Walden. Right next to me, every decision we made.”
In a 40-minute interview with Roll Call on Tuesday, Sessions and Walden showed an easy rapport. They were on the same page on every issue, peppered their ideas with bits of Boy Scout wisdom and finished each other’s sentences.
“We talk about —” Sessions began.
“— leaving your campsite better than you find it,” Walden completed.
“Yeah,” Sessions said. “Literally leaving your campsite better, and we apply that to our job here.”
“Pretty good philosophy,” Walden added.
They both explained how the NRCC had been built over the past four years to be a metric-driven, member-oriented, business-like, professional organization.
Walden recounted that the previous model was more solely command-and-control with a “good strong chairman and a staff.”
He said that giving more members more responsibility has helped GOP lawmakers have a sense of ownership and connection to the NRCC that has made it better.
Vision for 2014
Beyond continuing to fine-tune the organization, Walden outlined a bullish vision for 2014.
“Our goal is to add to seats. It is every time,” he said.
Walden explained what makes the 2014 and subsequent cycles different: The decennial process of redistricting is complete. He said he expects the committee will be able to continue to play offense.
Walden cited some potential districts to target: California’s 36th, where Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R, was defeated; California’s 52nd, where Rep. Brian P. Bilbray, R, appears likely to lose, although The Associated Press has not yet called the race; Georgia’s 12th District, where Rep. John Barrow, D, won re-election in a Republican-leaning seat; North Carolina’s 7th District, where Rep. Mike McIntyre appears poised to win a very tight victory, though the AP still hasn’t called the race; and Utah’s 4th District, where, Rep. Jim Matheson, D, squeaked out a win.
Walden also noted there could be some surprise districts targeted. The fact that his Oregon Democratic colleague Rep. Kurt Schrader won with only 54 percent of the vote against “a completely unfunded, unknown Republican” did not escape Walden’s eye.
Fundraising, as always, will be a key to success. Walden already has experience articulating why the NRCC is a worthy investment.
“Greg went and sold the fight to K Street,” Sessions said. “We have convinced this town that the program that the NRCC has is among the best programs in the country, and he is going to make that better.”
Both acknowledged that there were places where the NRCC did not succeed.
Sessions admitted that Republicans had fallen short on getting Hispanic voters to cast their ballots for Republican candidates in 2012.
“We do recognize that this was a frail point this cycle,” the outgoing chairman said. “We will do a better job.”
And Republicans came up dry in every district in New England.
Pressed on those defeats, Walden said despite the good campaigns many candidates ran, perhaps some of those New England seats just weren’t possible with President Barack Obama on the ticket. But Walden said that in a midterm there might be more opportunities for success.
Blue State Republicans
Walden, wearing a navy Petrocelli suit and red elephant tie, is easygoing and has a dry wit.
“There’s a big debate among the Oregon Republican delegation from day to day,” he deadpanned at one point in the interview.
Walden is the only Republican member from the Beaver State.
A former Capitol Hill press secretary, Walden chooses his words carefully and speaks in short, thoughtful sentences. He’s very close with Boehner and well-liked in the caucus.
And insiders said he has that most important of attributes for someone in charge of the dizzying three-dimensional chess game that is running a House campaign committee: Walden is not easily fazed.
“Greg is very even-keeled. He’s impossible to ruffle,” said Brad Todd, a top Republican strategist who works closely with the NRCC. “I think that that provides a pretty steady leadership.”
Walden declined to say whom he was eyeing for the NRCC’s executive director. A decision is expected soon.
He hinted though at what he was looking for in NRCC staff as he fills out the positions in the committee for the 2014 cycle: no squares.
“I want creative people who will think outside the box,” he said.
Walden telegraphed his leadership style of not being a micromanager, learned from years of running a small business.
“I believe in hiring really talented people, giving them the vision and then letting them do their jobs,” he said.
In a GOP with different factions, Walden is expected to be able navigate all of them.
“Members of all stripes in the conference trust him,” Todd said.
And his experience with the NRCC over the past four years appears to leave him well-qualified for the two years ahead.
That Eagle Scout badge both Walden and Sessions earned in their youth is of simple design. It has an eagle with the initials of the Boy Scouts of America; red, white, and blue fabric; and two words: Be Prepared.
After four years at Sessions’ side winning and holding a Republican majority, insiders said Walden will be.