NRCC Picks Incumbent Retention Team

Posted January 13, 2009 at 6:29pm

A trio of GOP lawmakers who represent swing districts and have survived tough election challenges in recent cycles have been tapped to head the National Republican Congressional Committee’s incumbent retention program for 2010.

Reps. Mike Rogers (Mich.), Peter Roskam (Ill.) and Dean Heller (Nev.) will meet with Republican freshmen Thursday at the Capitol Hill Club for a strategy session on how to most effectively begin their tenures in Congress — with an emphasis on building a strong foundation months before voters go to the polls.

Rogers, who will lead the NRCC’s incumbent retention program, said in an interview Tuesday that he has the credibility to advise Members in competitive districts — after all, he won his election in 2000 by only 111 votes. However, Rogers has easily won re-election in the four cycles since then.

“I have both empathy and sympathy,” Rogers said. “Our goal is to make every Member successful. We want them to be successful.”

To do that, he said, endangered Members must make sure they are spending enough time and resources in their districts, in addition to making the right decisions on tough legislative votes. While fundraising is important, Rogers said, it is not necessarily the key to victory for vulnerable Members.

“Mike Rogers has assembled an incumbent retention team of rising stars that know how to win tough races,” said Ken Spain, spokesman for NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas). “Since being elected to Congress by a razor-thin margin of 111 votes, Congressman Rogers has been re-elected by substantial margins even in the most challenging political environment. Chairman Sessions believes there is no better man for the job.”

Rogers said his predecessor as head of incumbent retention, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (Va.), did a “yeoman’s job under very tough circumstances” and added that better overall involvement on the part of the GOP Conference, in addition to a different election climate, would help the party rebuild its membership. Fourteen House Republicans lost re-election in 2008.

“We know we can’t get to 218 unless we keep the 178 we have,” Rogers said.

Roskam, who defeated Democrat Tammy Duckworth by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent in a highly publicized race in 2006 and went on to win with 58 percent of the vote in 2008, said the key to returning to Congress is connecting with constituents.

Heller agreed and said he and Roskam would focus on working with the freshmen in the Conference on how to get their constituent services operations up and running quickly.

“It’s all about developing relationships,” Heller said. “I have found it’s critical to get back to my district every weekend.”

He acknowledged that the same isn’t true for every Member and not even realistic for others, but he added that his goal was to be available to answer questions from freshman incumbents if they are unsure about what strategy to pursue.