Regardless whether House Republicans elect Rep. Steve Stivers or Rep. Roger Williams as their next campaign chief, they’ll be doing so with the understanding that the future chairman wants members to be more involved in the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Stivers of Ohio and Williams of Texas have been quietly campaigning for NRCC chairman for weeks, making pitches to their colleagues about their plans for the 2018 midterm elections before the 2016 cycle had even concluded.
The House Republican Conference will hold its closed-door leadership elections Nov. 15 and NRCC chair is one of only two contested leadership posts. The other is conference vice chair. A possible contest could emerge for conference vice secretary as well but the candidate field for that race has yet to be finalized.
Stivers and Williams have different proposals for enhancing the NRCC’s operations but they share a goal of increasing member participation.
Most House Republicans are disengaged from the NRCC’s work — many don’t even pay their membership dues — because they don’t face tough general election fights, the focus of the campaign committee’s efforts.
“Where we could add more value is by helping more members that have potential primary challenges,” Stivers said in a recent interview. He estimated that about 200 of the 246 members of the House Republican conference only worry about their primaries because of the heavy Republican demographics of their districts.
One of Stivers’s main proposals is to create a primary program — similar to the current Patriot Program that he chaired in the 2016 cycle. But unlike the Patriot Program, which seeks to help vulnerable incumbents facing competitive general election contests against Democrats, the primary program would help Republican incumbents with intraparty challenges.
The primary program would not be costly, Stivers said. Under his proposal, the NRCC would commit to donate about $100,000 out of its treasury for dues-paying members who face competitive primaries, which would be determined by polling. To help members raise additional money, the committee would hold fundraising days and other events, like it does for the Patriots Program.
“I do think it will get more members to pay their dues,” Stivers said, adding, “Anybody who pays is eligible and it’s all for one and one for all.”
Williams has a different idea to get members to pay their dues — lower them.
“One of the problems with members is we’ve made them be fundraisers, not congresspeople,“ Williams said in an interview Friday.
NRCC dues vary based on a members’ leadership or committee positions and can reach as high as half a million dollars, Williams said, noting that about 60 percent of current members pay them. His proposal is to flatten the dues structure so each member only has to pay $200,000 per year, which he suspects will increase participation.
Williams cited statics comparing the NRCC’s cash flow from 2004 to today: Membership dues have risen from 12 percent of the committee’s receipts to almost 68 percent. And money from outside donors dropped from 78 percent to 38 percent.
“All we’re doing is raising money from ourselves,” Williams said. “What we’ve got to do is take our message out to America.”
Stivers has been involved in the NRCC since he started his first term in 2011. Having lost his first bid for Congress in 2008, Stivers said he knows how important it is to have an NRCC that works.
“I wanted to give back to other colleagues,” he said.
The Ohio Republican is hoping to get more House Republicans to see the importance of contributing to the team. Stivers is proposing to create a member services office, which would be chaired by a member of Congress and run by NRCC staff, to engage House Republicans and their staffs. The office would seek out members that have not been involved in the NRCC to show them the real value of the organization.
For members that are already engaged, Stivers wants to develop an incentive program that would encourage them to contribute more than just the required membership dues.
Williams said another thing he plans to address is the NRCC’s customer service, noting that a lot of people say they only hear from the the committee when they get hit up for annual donations.
“We’re going to do thank yous during the course of the year …and let them know that we appreciate them,” Williams said.
To increase outside contributions and supplement for lower membership dues, Williams plans to have a network of professional fundraisers that will help the NRCC host more events throughout the country with House Republicans.
“And members will be able to take the money they raised and use the money as they see fit,” he said.
Stivers said the NRCC can learn some lessons from the 2016 cycle and do a better job identifying in advance districts that Democrats are eyeing as second-tier targets.
This year, such targets included incumbent GOP Reps. John Mica of Florida, Darrell Issa of California, Erik Paulsen of Minnesota and Kevin Yoder of Kansas, he said. Mica lost his re-election bid. Paulsen and Yoder survived and Issa appears to have pulled off a win, although his race had yet to be called on Friday.
Williams said the NRCC can improve its recruitment effort to expand the map and put more districts in play.
“I think we can do a better job of that, developing a farm system of people that would be good candidates,” he said.
Both candidates expressed optimism about their chances, based on feedback they have received from their colleagues.
Stivers said his pitch has garnered “a very, very warm reception,” adding, “People are very excited about and eager for some help in primaries.”
Williams, however, is confident he’ll emerge the victor.
“I think we’ve got the numbers to win,” he said. “People are buying into this.”