It was 2015 and Parker Poling was going all out to persuade fellow Republicans to support a top priority of President Barack Obama, a Democrat.
That sounds improbable, but at the time she was chief of staff to North Carolina Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, who was the chief deputy whip for the GOP majority. Republican leaders were trying to persuade skeptical lawmakers to give Obama fast-track authority to negotiate trade deals.
In the end, the House approved the measure, known as trade promotion authority, and Poling, now executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, still considers it her favorite memory of being on the Hill.
“It was just this long, long slog, and it felt really, really good to get it done,” Poling recalls.
Fast forward four years and Poling’s mission looks a little different. As she oversees the House GOP’s campaign arm, her job is to defeat Democrats next year and pick up the 19 seats needed to take back the speaker’s gavel.
Poling, 42, spent 12 years on the Hill. But she wasn’t excited about going to the Financial Services Committee, where McHenry became ranking member this year. She was about to leave, likely to become a lobbyist, when then-Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and incoming NRCC chairman Tom Emmer approached her in November, after the midterms, about moving across the street to the campaign committee.
Aside from working on a gubernatorial race in New Jersey and lieutenant governor’s race in Rhode Island years ago, Poling hasn’t had much full-time campaign experience. Still, the NRCC building isn’t completely unfamiliar to her. She had a hand in candidate recruitment when McHenry was NRCC recruitment vice chairman during the 2014 cycle.
Poling attended an all-girls boarding school in upstate New York, where arguments with her history teacher about the New Deal led to her own political awakening. (He was a fan; she was not.) After attending Brown and George Washington University Law School, Poling caught “the campaign finance law bug” at the Federal Election Commission. But then McHenry, whom she’d met through the College Republicans in 1997, came calling with a job offer.
Poling’s favorite part of her old job was being on the floor, talking to members. She still has that interaction now, just in a different setting. As the chief to a Republican from a safe seat, she sometimes felt as if the NRCC engaged only with endangered members. She’s tried to increase the committee’s outreach to lawmakers who don’t, as she put it, “need the NRCC.”
The campaign committee has made waves so far this cycle by personally attacking Democrats for, among other things, their physical stature. Press releases have called New York Rep. Max Rose “little Max,” while others have mocked South Carolina Rep. Joe Cunningham and his wife for seeking marriage counseling.
“That was a mandate from the very top — from the leadership, from leaders, from Chairman Emmer — that we need to be aggressive,” Poling says. “That’s how you win back majorities.”
Poling isn’t always so aggressive. After the executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Allison Jaslow, was forced out earlier this year, Poling emailed her.
“These are tough jobs,” Poling says. “It would be hard to be friends in the midst of it. But you know, hopefully, when this is all done, then maybe we’ll get a glass of rosé.”
She tries to keep politics out of her own corner of Capitol Hill, the neighborhood she calls home. “In D.C., as a Republican, you could not survive if you were political all the time,” Poling says. “You’d have no friends, right?”
But she balks at the idea that the GOP has an image problem when it comes to attracting candidates and voters that reflect America’s diversity.
“Reporters have been writing the death knell of the Republican Party due to demographics for like 25 years now. So I don’t buy into that,” she says. But she credits the success of Democratic women in 2018 for inspiring more Republican women to run this year.
So would Poling, who’s the fourth female executive director of the NRCC, ever run for office?
“I actually love upstate New York, where I’m from, but Elise Stefanik is doing such a great job there,” Poling jokes. “And she’s younger than I am. So, you know.”