House Republicans have a conflict of interest. What worked for them in 2012, when the GOP conference comfortably retained its majority, saw the party's presidential nominee and a slew of Senate candidates crash to a disappointing defeat.
Rather than just stick with what worked for them, new National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., made it clear in an interview on Thursday that his colleagues realize they need to assist the national party's rehabilitation.
"What you say in your district now matters in my district," Walden said, describing a discussion House Republicans had at their retreat several weeks ago. "Today, it affects me in about, oh, 140 characters and 30 seconds. That's just the way of the world. So we remind our members that now what you say and how you say it affects all of us."
No issue better typifies this conundrum than immigration. That debate helped wreck Mitt Romney's campaign, but for many House Republicans in overwhelmingly white seats, it mattered little. Individual GOP members of Congress might not need to recalibrate on immigration, but Walden said they are sensitive to the national party’s needs.
"We all got hit" in 2012, Walden said. "We maybe did better, because House races are different and we ran them differently and we were doing some different things. But we share a common interest in getting better."
Walden and the NRCC head toward 2014 with 17 seats cushioning GOP control of the lower chamber, eight fewer than in the last Congress but still good enough for the second-biggest Republican House majority since the Hoover Administration. President Obama has pledged significant fundraising, recruiting, and campaign resources to Democrats as they try to wrest back House control. Though second-term presidents have often weighed their parties down in midterm elections – the "six-year itch" – Walden said that his conference and his committee can't just sit back and wait for Obama and the Democrats to falter.
"I always run campaigns like they're out to get me," Walden said. "So I look at that as something that could be a wonderful piece of icing on the cake, but I have to go bake the cake. I have to go win those races. If the six-year itch is there: great! We'll win a lot more. But our job is to not bet on history, our job is to go make history."
Walden identified two areas in particular where House Republicans hope to up their game in the new cycle and close a widening gap between the parties.
"I look at 2014 as a grand opportunity to really improve our digital game, our database, and do the kind of work on the ground, the grassroots work, that is really important these days," Walden said. "Sometimes I think it's too easy to just throw TV ads up and say you've done your job. You need to go deeper than that and broader than that."
Toward that end, the NRCC has pulled together what it says is now the largest digital team in Republican politics, and Walden is optimistic that they can help the party conduct more modern campaigns going forward. "From what we know the Obama campaign did, it's impressive," Walden said. "This is not something you can't replicate."
"I know it’s a deficit," Walden continued. "I look at it as an opportunity. Look, it may be computer science, but it's not rocket science."
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