With many Republicans conceding their poor prospects of holding the House next month, attention outside the conference is beginning to turn to who will helm its campaign committee for the next cycle.
Ohio Rep. Steve Stivers, who’s running for a fifth term in a safe Republican seat, is the current chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. It’s not uncommon for there to be turnover at the end of a cycle, and it’s largely understood Stivers is unlikely to remain in charge should the GOP lose its majority.
“I am solely focused on keeping the House majority, and I am not focused on any of my personal ambitions,” the NRCC chairman said in a statement to Roll Call on Monday.
The group continues to be outraised by its Democratic counterpart, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, evoking larger concerns for some GOP operatives outside the NRCC over how operations have been run this cycle. In September, for example, the DCCC brought in $15.4 million to the NRCC’s $5.9 million.
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That some of the most frequently mentioned names are themselves in competitive seats begs an interesting question: Is the best person to lead the committee someone who knows first-hand what it’s like to run in a tight race? Or should it be someone, like Stivers or Oregon Rep. Greg Walden before him, who isn’t defending a competitive seat and theoretically has more time to travel the country for other candidates?
“It’s a huge mistake having people who just don’t know what it’s like and what the pressures are,” said one GOP strategist, who noted how quickly the tools and tactics of campaigning change. “If you haven’t had a tough race in six years, you’re out of the game.”
It could also be helpful to have a battled-test chairman to help out with recruitment. “The candidates in the red districts recruit themselves. But candidate recruitment is most important in those competitive, swing purple districts,” another GOP operative said.
Two women are among the most frequently mentioned names, one of whom has a more competitive re-election than the other this year. California Rep. Mimi Walters is currently a deputy chairwoman at the NRCC, where she’s in charge of operations. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race for her 45th District seat a Toss-up. Walters has said she wouldn’t challenge Stivers but would consider the position if it were open.
“We’ve never had a female Republican be a head of the NRCC,” she told Roll Call earlier this year. “I’m a very good fundraiser and politically, I’ve got a lot of experience.”
Missouri Rep. Ann Wagner’s name also comes up often. Elected in 2012, she’s been a leader in the GOP’s efforts to recruit women. She’s currently the vice chairwoman of fundraising for the NRCC, and she chaired the finance department during the 2016 cycle.
Wagner was widely expected to run for Senate against Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill this cycle, but stayed out of the race after the party rallied around Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley instead. Her Democratic opponent in the 2nd District had outraised her in several quarters this cycle, but Inside Elections continues to rate the contest Solid Republican, and Wagner had a significant cash-on-hand advantage at the end of the second quarter on June 30.
Texas Rep. Will Hurd is running for a third term in the 23rd District, usually one of the most competitive in the country. But the former CIA officer has proved a strong campaigner whose re-election in a district Hillary Clinton carried is now rated Leans Republican. As an African-American representing a heavily Hispanic district, he’d offer a young and diverse face to the party’s campaign arm. He’s been serving as the NRCC vice chairman for candidate development this cycle.
Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis also finds himself in a Leans Republican race. That’s one reason donors think he’d be a good fit for chairman. This cycle, he chaired the Primary Patriot Program, which was an initiative Stivers started to offer assistance to members facing credible primary threats. Stivers made the program part of his campaign platform for the NRCC job, arguing it would incentivize more members to pay their dues.
Davis is also chairman of the Republican Main Street Caucus, which calls itself the “governing wing” of the House GOP. Before coming to Congress he was an aide to Illinois Rep. John Shimkus and did political work for the state party.
“Congressman Davis’ work with Main Street and his background in campaigns prior to running for office might have people speculating, but right now, his focus is winning his race, helping other members win, and keeping the majority,” Davis spokeswoman Ashley Phelps said in an email.
Texas Rep. Roger Williams, who lost the most recent chairmanship race to Stivers in November 2016, may take another look at it this year.
“Congressman Williams is a natural leader and constantly has members of the conference approach him about throwing his hat in again, especially with the shortage of money and the clear distinction last time about how he wanted to change the dues system,” spokeswoman Hanna Allred said in a statement.
His proposal to get more members to pay their dues was to lower them. Williams lost to Stivers 143 to 96 in a secret ballot vote.
“Right now, he is focused on his re-election campaign and is still hopeful we retain the majority. After that, he will look at other opportunities,” Allred said.
Other names in the mix include two current members of NRCC leadership — New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, its first female head of recruitment, and Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer, a deputy chairman. He’s been in charge of the organization’s future operations this cycle. Both are in safe Republican seats.
Two other Republicans in safe districts have been mentioned. North Carolina Rep. Richard Hudson, a former chief of staff to three of his House colleagues, considered running for the position in 2016 and could take another look.
One Republican source suggested California Rep. Devin Nunes could be a good option because of his strong fundraising and ties to the White House. But Nunes doesn’t sound interested.
“Chairman Nunes is focused on his responsibilities on the Intelligence and Ways and Means Committees, and is not considering any possibility of becoming NRCC chairman,” his chief of staff Anthony Ratekin said in an email.
As the Intelligence panel chairman, a speaker-appointed position, Nunes would be unlikely to continue serving in that role and as NRCC chairman.
Lindsey McPherson and Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.