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Roger Williams Makes Play for NRCC Chairman (Updated)

Williams wants to mount a challenge to Walden. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Williams wants to mount a challenge to Walden. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 5:22 p.m. | Freshman Rep. Roger Williams of Texas is gunning to challenge current National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden’s bid for a second term and is actively seeking meetings with members for his bid, CQ Roll Call has learned.  

“He told me that he was thinking about doing that, and I think Roger would be a good, viable candidate for that job,” Rep. Randy Neugebauer said late Wednesday afternoon. “The Texas delegation is a pretty tight delegation. I can’t speak for my other colleagues, but I would look favorably on Roger’s candidacy.”  

“I understand he is running for NRCC Chairman,” fellow Texas Rep. John Carter said, adding he would support Williams for the gig. “I think he does” have a chance at defeating Walden with “new ideas, new blood.”  

Williams has also made his intent clear to Speaker John A. Boehner, who told House GOP leadership in a private Monday meeting that he will be backing Walden as chairman, multiple sources confirmed. On Tuesday afternoon, Walden announced to reporters he plans to run for chairman  of the committee again after the November elections.  

“The speaker made it very clear in recent meetings that he’s going to be supporting Walden,” a Republican aide told CQ Roll Call.  

Without Boehner’s support, Williams’ chances of upsetting Walden are slim. House Republicans elect their NRCC chairman. The House’s Democratic leader picks the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.  

Williams’ office did not immediately return repeated requests for comment Wednesday morning. After this story was published, Williams would not confirm or deny his intention to run for the NRCC slot. Williams told CQ Roll Call in a brief hallway interview after he exited a weekly meeting of the Republican Study Committee that he has one agenda, for now. “I’m totally focused on winning elections now” in advance of November, Williams said, to “help our candidates over the finish line.”  

Williams said his fundraising activity confirms his commitment to helping the party maintain the majority, but would not directly respond to questions as to whether he had begun conversations with colleagues or members of leadership, saying all those discussions would happen after the midterms.  

But multiple sources said the Texas Republican is attempting to make the case to his colleagues that fundraising is a problem for the committee, and he can do a better job than Walden. Williams, a car dealer from the Fort Worth area, was appointed to be an NRCC finance chairman in September 2013 .  

The NRCC’s fundraising has lagged behind the DCCC for most of the cycle. At the end of June, the last reporting period, the DCCC had stashed $50.9 million in the bank, while the NRCC reported $42.5 million in cash on hand. Specifically, the DCCC has developed a massive money advantage through its small-dollar, online fundraising operation — a concern Walden has previously acknowledged to reporters .  

“I think Greg Walden has done an absolutely superb job — a terrific job on the fundraising end of this,” former NRCC Chairman Tom Cole of Oklahoma said in a Wednesday phone interview. “He’s got a great team over there. He’s recruited a wonderful set of candidates. I think the election performance will prove what we already know: He deserves a second term as NRCC chairman.”  

House Democrats would need to net 17 seats to reclaim the majority from Republicans. That’s unlikely this November, with the political environment and midterm turnout projects currently favoring the GOP. Last week, Walden predicted to CQ Roll Call  that 2014 would be a “wave election” benefiting his party.  

“I prefer this sort of thing happen after the election is over,” Cole added. “Right now, we need to all be pulling for the chairman.”  

Every member of the House GOP’s top leadership attended the Monday meeting: House Majority Leader-elect Kevin McCarthy, Majority Whip-elect Steve Scalise, Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, Deputy Conference Chairwoman Lynn Jenkins, NRCC Recruitment Chairman Patrick T. McHenry, Reps. Steve Southerland II of Florida and Ann Wagner of Missouri.  

“Greg is doing an excellent job to put us in a strong position to be successful this November — from recruitment to fundraising to digital efforts,” McMorris Rodgers told CQ Roll Call in a statement. “It’s premature to have this conversation before the election because right now all of our efforts should be about expanding our majority.”  

One Capitol Hill source said Williams has deputized fellow freshman Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo. But Smith, who won a special election in 2013, denied his involvement to CQ Roll Call in a brief interview.  

“Congressman Smith is not affiliated with Congressman Williams’ bid for NRCC chair,” echoed Justin Gibbs, Smiths’ deputy chief of staff.  

According to two sources, some members are disgruntled with Walden for supporting openly gay challengers
— specifically
Richard Tisei
in Massachusetts and Carl DeMaio in California. It’s unclear whether Williams agrees with that critique, but a source noted he might try to leverage that group’s particular frustration as a voting bloc for his bid.  

In light of his fledgling challenge, Walden’s backers offered statements of support for his continued leadership at the NRCC —  including Wagner, Deputy NRCC Chairman Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia, Rep. Chris Gibson of New York and others.  

“They are both good guys, but I am with Greg because he is a proven commodity,” said Rep. Steve Stivers of Ohio, another NRCC finance chairman. “He is on the verge of picking up eight to 15 seats to further grow our majority and I don’t think we should switch horses in the middle of the race.”  

“I am thrilled to hear that my friend Greg Walden intends to serve another term as NRCC chairman and carry out the work we started together,” said former NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas. “Because of Greg’s hard work, our Republican majority is well-protected and Nancy Pelosi has no hope of becoming speaker of the House ever again.”  

Walden has personally raised more than $2 million for the NRCC, and has logged nearly 80,000 miles traveling for candidates and members across 24 states, according to a committee aide.  

Until recently, Williams had been mentioned by Capitol Hill aides and colleagues as a potential future NRCC chairman after Walden.  

Emma Dumain, Matt Fuller and Abby Livingston contributed to this report. 
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