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Exclusive: NRCC Chairman Reveals Top Targets for 2016

Walden is seeking a second term running the NRCC. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Fresh off a historic House majority, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden said he is already pivoting to focus on protecting the incoming GOP members elected last week.

In an exclusive interview with CQ Roll Call, Walden said his main priority will be defending the seats — at least 244 — his party captured on Election Day.

Many of the newly elected members represent districts that traditionally favor Democrats — and could again, especially in a presidential year. Walden said fortifying those new incumbents be his main focus.

“It’s a wonderful burden to have,” Walden said Wednesday afternoon at the NRCC.

House Republicans picked up 12 seats on election night, with a handful of races yet to be called. Walden is now looking to coast to a second stint at the helm of the committee , pending a formal conference election Thursday.

While he said he’s “pleasantly pleased” with Election Day’s outcome, the possibility of a wave didn’t become apparent until 10 days out.

“We had just a lot of races that were within the margin of error in the polling,” Walden said. “And it’s clear now those races opened up in that last period of time. We began to feel it looking at Senate results — at their polling — because they were polling, and you could see as those races began to open, something bigger was happening out there.”

Also in the final weeks of the cycle, Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, expressed interest in challenging Walden for the spot. The Texan was actively courting support for the job, knocking Walden’s fundraising abilities. But the day after the election, Williams bowed out, citing the House GOP’s success at the ballot box this cycle.

“Did we have to deal with the stories? Yeah, we had to deal with the stories,” Walden said. “But the long and short of it was, we kept focus. My view is, you know, I’ve been asked to do this job and we’re gonna keep focused on accomplishing this mission and then the election will play out the way it’s going to play out.”

Walden said catching Democrats in the money chase will also be a top priority in his second stint at the NRCC.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee trounced the NRCC on the fundraising front, utilizing a star-studded network of surrogates and a robust digital operation to rake in millions. As of Sept. 30, the DCCC raised $163.2 to the NRCC’s $125 million during the cycle.

Walden said his party could not match Democrats’ fundraising powerhouse, which included Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

But Walden mentioned former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Speaker John A. Boehner, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul D. Ryan, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy as money-makers for the party.

“I’ll tell you, Mitt Romney, off the charts helpful,” Walden said. “Individually with candidates all over the country, anytime we called, he was eager to help. He did events for the NRCC all over the country.”

Looking to 2016, Walden said he now has a better grasp of the rhythm of the cycle, which will help him organize and plan.

“Part of our message has to be how we govern, because I think Americans are hungry for a positive agenda out of Congress, and we have an obligation to give that to them,” Walden said.

He also mentioned a handful of members who will need extra help in a presidential cycle:

They include:

  • Rep.-elect Cresent Hardy, R-Nev., who ousted Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford in a district Obama carried by 11 points in 2012.
  • Rep.-elect Frank Guinta, R-N.H., who is coming back to Congress after defeating Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter in New Hampshire’s 1st District.
  • And Rep.-elect Robert Dold, R-Ill., also returning to Congress in Illinois’ 10th District, which Obama carried by a 16-point margin in 2012.

Walden added there are still offensive opportunities on the map, including two Democrats in districts Obama lost in 2012: Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona and Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota. Rep.-elect Brad Ashford, the Democrat who ousted GOP Rep. Lee Terry in Nebraska’s 2nd District, also has joined Walden’s early list of targets.

“Welcome to the new red zone,” Walden said of Ashford, referring to the NRCC’s program targeting Democrats in GOP-leaning districts.

To accomplish all of those goals, Walden said the committee will begin to pay down its debt — not uncommon for political parties after an election.

“It will come in significantly below what we borrowed in the last two cycles,” Walden said. “I don’t know the number yet. … Our goal was not to exceed $12 [million], and I know we did not and we won’t. So I think we’ll be in much better shape than before when it comes to the debt.”

Walden said he hasn’t begun recruiting candidates. In 2012, outgoing DCCC Chair Steve Israel said he began calling potential recruits on election night 2012 to ask them to run.

“I haven’t made any recruitment calls yet,” Walden said. “People need to absorb these things.”

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