Republican Main Street Partnership revamps, sets high fundraising goal

Adviser Walden says policy motivates members, not TV time

Former Oregon Rep. Greg Walden will be an adviser to the Republican Main Street Partnership after a congressional career that included chairing the Energy and Commerce Committee and the NRCC. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Former Oregon Rep. Greg Walden will be an adviser to the Republican Main Street Partnership after a congressional career that included chairing the Energy and Commerce Committee and the NRCC. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted June 24, 2021 at 5:00am

The Republican Main Street Partnership, a centrist-leaning GOP organization that includes an affiliated super PAC, has tapped former Oregon Rep. Greg Walden as an outside adviser as it seeks to raise more than it ever has, $25 million, in the 2022 election cycle. 

It’s part of a larger overhaul of the group, which is navigating the turmoil and divisions of the post-Trump era with Republicans well positioned, historically, to reclaim the House majority. Walden served as chairman of the House GOP campaign arm for the 2014 and 2016 election cycles and was a member of the Republican Main Street Partnership while in Congress. 

The group won’t take policy positions but will offer policy and communications support and networking for its lawmaker members and their senior aides, according to its president, Sarah Chamberlain.

It’s also looking to lure small-dollar donations as well as big checks, Chamberlain said, though smaller donors in both parties tend to gravitate toward more hard-line politicians — not those in the middle.

“Some people may get more national attention,” Walden said. “Our Main Street members work really hard in their districts and care a lot about getting policy done. They’re real workhorses.”

The group, he added, is “made up of members that are more concerned about getting their policy work done than getting the latest hit on TV.”

Several House freshmen who won competitive races in 2020 are among 16 new Main Street members, including California’s Young Kim and Florida’s Carlos Gimenez and María Elvira Salazar. Membership now totals almost 70, according to the group.

Another new freshman member, Iowa’s Randy Feenstra, who beat former Rep. Steve King in a primary last year, had Main Street’s backing in that race. Defending Main Street, the group’s super PAC, spent at least $100,000 against King, according to disclosures with the Federal Election Commission. 

“I ran for Congress because I believe the people of my district and the country deserve results, not rhetoric,” Feenstra said in a statement. “In the Iowa Senate, I worked to build coalitions in support of my conservative agenda, including a balanced budget and historic tax cuts. I am working with my colleagues in the Republican Main Street Partnership to enact similar conservative reforms that deliver results for America’s Main Streets and family farmers.”

Other new members include Kentucky’s Andy Barr; New Jersey’s Jeff Van Drew, who switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican in 2019; California’s Jay Obernolte; Iowa’s Ashley Hinson and Mariannette Miller-Meeks; New York’s Chris Jacobs; Texas’ Michael McCaul and Tony Gonzales; and Utah’s Blake D. Moore

Three of the group’s new members voted in January to impeach former President Donald Trump: Reps. David Valadao of California, Peter Meijer of Michigan and Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio. 

Primary decisions

Trump, even out of office, still remains a force in GOP politics, and he’s pledged to work against lawmakers who didn’t support him. He is planning a rally in Ohio on Saturday, for example, to support Republican Max Miller, who is challenging Gonzalez.

Chamberlain said that Main Street does plan to spend in primaries this coming cycle but hasn’t yet made any decisions about whom to support. She stressed that the group was not positioning itself as a counter to Trump’s influence in the party.

“The Trump base is still extremely important,” she said. 

The group also won’t advocate specific policies or legislation, Chamberlain said.  

“It’s very difficult to get 70 members to agree on policy. They have very different districts,” she said. “We always got ourselves stuck in the middle. … And that just became too much.” 

Instead, the group wants to position itself as a forum for discussions among lawmakers and, separately, as a place of mentoring and collaboration for senior aides. Former New York Rep. Amo Houghton founded the group; he died in March 2020.

“What we do stand for is electing and getting more Main Street American-type Republicans elected,” Chamberlain said, especially in the suburban districts that fled the GOP in the 2018 cycle as a reaction to Trump. 

That 2018 period, when Republicans lost control of the House, led to consternation among some members of the group, and a story by NPR reported on a memo that alleged potential campaign finance violations. The story sparked litigation.

“There was a lawsuit,” Chamberlain said. “And we’ve moved on. The suit was settled months ago, and we’re only looking forward to the future and keeping our members elected and adding more and taking back the House of Representatives.”

Going for the gavel

Walden, a former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, will be a part of that effort to win the majority in the 2022 elections. 

“I can see from every side of the table,” said Walden, noting his experience as an 11-term member of Congress, as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee and as a Hill staffer. “I’ve just brought that experience to play in how Main Street can be an even bigger and better organization.”

“There’s real excitement among Republicans about governing, taking the majority back and taking care of their districts,” he added. 

The group’s fundraising goals are ambitious. 

In the 2020 cycle, its super PAC, Defending Main Street, raised just over $3.5 million, down from the previous cycle’s $5 million. There are no reports for this year on file yet with the FEC. Chamberlain said she had commitments from donors toward about half of Main Street’s $25 million goal. Even if the group meets that goal, it would still be smaller than other super PACs focused on House Republicans. The Congressional Leadership Fund, for example, reported bringing in more than $165 million last cycle. 

Both Chamberlain and Walden said it was still too early to say which races Main Street might prioritize. Candidates in nearly every state are awaiting new congressional maps as a result of redistricting and reapportionment based on the 2020 census. 

Potential candidates have also begun reaching out to the Republican Main Street Partnership, Chamberlain said. 

Walden said Republican chances of winning control of the House in 2022 will come down to the quality of the candidates and the policy debates, while serving as something of a referendum on all-Democratic control of Washington. 

“There’s a lot of opportunity here for Republicans to say, ‘Here’s how we’d do it, here’s how they’ve done it, and you choose,’” he said. “I’d rather be us than them.”