Davis Considering Another NRCC Run

Posted March 2, 2005 at 6:45pm

Two years after giving up the chairmanship of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Rep. Tom Davis (Va.) is interested in making a return engagement, perhaps by the 2008 election cycle.

When, or whether, Davis would make his move back to the House GOP’s campaign arm depends on a number of factors, including the status of his chairmanship of the Government Reform Committee, the GOP’s performance in the 2006 elections and the possibility that a Virginia Senate seat may open up in 2008.

Even with all those uncertainties, sources close to Davis confirm that he is considering an encore at the NRCC, where he earned good reviews for his leadership during the 2000 and 2002 cycles.

“I think he is seriously interested,” said a GOP lawmaker who has discussed the issue with Davis.

“He really enjoyed that job,” said one high-level Republican strategist. “He reluctantly left after the two-term limit.”

Asked Tuesday whether he was interested in retaking the post in the next cycle, Davis said: “I’d have to give up my full committee chairmanship, and I wouldn’t want to do that.”

Davis added that his calculus might change if the GOP somehow lost the majority in 2006. That would bump him from the Government Reform chairmanship into the ranking member slot.

Ideally, Davis would wait until the 2010 cycle to take over the NRCC, as he will be term-limited out of his Government Reform chairmanship then.

Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) is also up for re-election in 2008. Warner would be 81 years old at that time, and there is considerable speculation that he may retire. Davis has privately expressed an interest in a statewide run and would likely jump into an open-seat contest.

The potential candidacy of Davis aside, the race to take over the NRCC in 2007 is wide open. Current Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) is expected to leave the post after this term, as committee rules prevent chairmanships that exceed two consecutive cycles.

While no lawmaker has begun publicly campaigning for the position, a handful of Republicans are seen as viable possibilities. Those candidates include Reps. Tom Cole (Okla.), Phil English (Pa.), Mike Rogers (Mich.) and Pete Sessions (Texas).

During the previous cycle, Rogers served as the committee’s finance chairman, Sessions handled coalitions, English was in charge of incumbent development and Cole was a member of the executive committee.

Reynolds has not yet announced the full slate of NRCC officers for this cycle, but Sessions has already been tapped to serve as co-chairman of the incumbent-retention program along with Pennsylvania Rep. Don Sherwood.

Predictably, none of the potential candidates expressed interest in discussing a race that is still two years away.

“We’ll see down the road what happens next,” said Sessions’ chief of staff, Guy Harrison.

He added that since Members had given more than $300,000 to Sessions during his previous campaign, the Congressman felt like he had a lot to give back this time around.

Sessions won plaudits last year for knocking off Rep. Martin Frost, one of the Democrats’ most savvy campaign strategists, after the two were thrown together by re-redistricting in Texas. Privately, however, some Republican operatives suggested that Sessions could have run a stronger campaign.

One top Republican strategist said Sessions has made his interest in the job clear.

“He is not very subtle behind the scenes,” said the strategist. “[Sessions is] running. No question about it.”

Rogers, for his part, said, “I think it’s important to have a Republican majority, and I’ll serve in some capacity to help maintain that majority. My concern right now is 2006.”

Rogers helped raise more than $21 million last cycle as head of the NRCC’s Battleground effort, exceeding the program’s target by $5 million. He has also shown the ability to win in a marginal district, though it is unclear whether Rogers is truly interested in running for the top NRCC job, as opposed to another leadership post or a possible statewide office in Michigan.

English, meanwhile, is seen within the leadership as having the requisite tactical smarts and district-by-district knowledge, though it is not clear how well he would handle the PR component of the job.

Asked whether he would be interested in the chairmanship, English said, “No comment at all.”

Cole’s strength is his résumé. He served as executive director of the NRCC from 1991 to 1995, and as an ex-staffer he would bring to the post skills similar to those of current Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), a former White House aide.

“I’m going to do everything I can just to make sure we have a successful 2006,” Cole said. As for the future, “I’m not ruling anything in or out. It’s too early for that.”

Rep. Spencer Bachus (Ala.) is also seen as a potential candidate. He has been chosen to chair this year’s NRCC Dinner, a major fundraising event for the campaign committee that will feature President Bush. The event will be March 15.

Of course, none of those candidates has the credentials to match Davis, who led the NRCC through two difficult cycles and is known as a political savant.

“He’s certainly a guy who’s got that almost ‘Forrest Gump’-like ability with districts,” said a Republican leadership aide.

For all the kudos Davis earned for his past performance as NRCC chairman, he has always had a mixed relationship with the rest of the Republican leadership. His moderate stances on many issues, particularly those that defend his district’s many federal employees, make some of his more conservative colleagues uneasy.

“That could potentially make it more difficult for him,” said a senior GOP leadership aide.

Since coming to Congress in 1994, Davis has built an empire of influence in both Washington, D.C., and Virginia thanks in large part to his talent for fundraising. Davis has sprinkled donations throughout the country in the last several cycles, with a special emphasis on the commonwealth.

In 2004, Davis spent more than $300,000 from his leadership political action committee, the Federal Victory Fund, on state legislative races in Virginia. His expenditures included donations as well as in-kind contributions of polling. He donated an additional $32,500 to the Virginia Republican Party.

At the same time, Davis donated nearly $350,000 to federal candidates last cycle. He also gave $140,000 to the NRCC and $15,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

The other Members mentioned have not equaled Davis’ financial largess to their colleagues, but all have done their part to make them viable candidates for the NRSC chairmanship.

Sessions gave nearly $200,000 to fellow GOPers from his leadership PAC in the 2004 cycle — an impressive feat given his costly and bitter race against Frost.

Sessions won that contest, 54 percent to 44 percent, spending $4.5 million in the race to Frost’s $4.8 million. It was the most expensive Congressional contest in the country last year.

Rogers gave approximately $300,000 to federal candidates from his leadership PAC in the 2004 cycle, in addition to his work as Battleground chairman.

English gave a combined $80,000 to the committee from his personal campaign account and his leadership PAC. He contributed just over $40,000 to endangered GOP Members and challenger candidates.

Cole gave $79,000 to federal candidates and $70,000 to the NRCC from his personal campaign account.