Depending on how you look at the partisan situation in the US House, the National Republican Campaign Committee is either in dire straights or facing nothing but upside as the 2010 cycle approaches. On the one hand, House Republicans are a shrunken caucus with little power to push back against Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s solid Democratic majority; on the other, that majority may well be maxed out and the Republicans have a chance to chip away at it during President Obama’s first midterm cycle. Fivethirtyeight interviewed NRCC executive director Guy Harrison to find out what the strategy, mood and situation is at the NRCC right now.
Fivethirtyeight.com: Please tell us a little bit about your professional background prior to becoming executive/political director of the NRCC.
Guy Harrison: I started out on Congressman [Pete] Sessions’ campaign right after college. He was running against a six-term incumbent, John Bryant, who had never been held to less than 60 percent of the vote. While we lost by approximately 2,400 votes, Bryant decided to run for Senate rather than facing Sessions again in 1998. Sessions sought the seat again and beat John Pouland. After that, I came up to Washington with the Chairman and was his Chief of Staff from 2000 until I moved to the NRCC in January.
How would you describe Congressman Sessions’ management style and philosophy so far as NRCC Chair?
Congressman Sessions uses the tools he learned in the private sector–he defines the mission, recruits good managers and places value in quality experienced staff. His NRCC reflects this philosophy with strong Congressional leadership in his Vice Chairs and Regional Chairs. He knows that regaining the majority will be because of member involvement, quality staff, and great candidates.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has traditionally struggled to get all its members to pay their dues. What is the dues structure for the NRCC and how compliant are members of Congress in paying them?
The NRCC is fortunate enough that we continue to have a tremendous amount of support by the members in our caucus. Last cycle, we had more than 75 percent of members pay their dues to the NRCC which provided us with critical funds needed to defend our incumbents and target numerous Democratic candidates all over the country. This year, we have already have increased member participation, with 99 percent of members helping with our March Dinner.
It’s harder for Hill committees to raise money when their party is in the minority, of course. That structural liability aside, what are the challenges or opportunities of fundraising for the NRCC right now?
There a definitely a lot of opportunities right now for the NRCC. Right now it’s all about the House. This isn’t a year of a presidential election so we can really focus on raising money for House races and ending Nancy Pelosi’s reign as Speaker. This provides us with more opportunities to raise the necessary amount of funds to hold Democrats accountable all across the country.
Were you surprised by President Obama’s appointment of New York Republican Rep. John McHugh, and what would you say are the prospects of keeping that seat Republican?
I think everyone was initially surprised at the choice but given Congressman McHugh’s long involvement in military issues, it was understandable as to why the White House selected him. However, it was also a calculated political move by the impromptu DCCC Chairman who is the White House Chief of Staff to attempt to add another Pelosi puppet into the House of Representatives. We are optimistic that the New York Republican State Committee will nominate a strong and credible candidate, someone who shares the interests and values of such a diverse district and we will make a solid effort to gain the seat. As we have said before the Republicans are committed to assemble an aggressive and winning campaign especially in this area.
There’s been a lot of talk of Republican troubles in the Northeast, particularly New England. In those six states plus New York you’re down to three seats, perhaps two depending on what happens in McHugh’s district. How does the GOP turn things around in what once was a generally competitive region for Republicans?
What were are really going to focus on in New England and really all over the country is going after candidates who fit each district and candidates who can really win each district. Some of those prospects include Tom Reid, the Mayor of Corning, NY to run in NY-29 and John McKinney, the Connecticut State Senate Minority Leader in CT-04 and of course Frank Guinta, the Mayor of Manchester, NH, who is running against Carol Shea-Porter in NH-01. We are going to focus on strong candidate recruitment so that we can make a comeback with great recruits who can win for the GOP.
I’m presuming that Democratic freshman, particularly those who either won narrowly and/or won on the strength Obama coattails, are among the NRCC’s top targets for 2010, correct?
Yes, definitely. The target list definitely includes those who won narrowly or on the coattails of the Obama campaign. Tom Perriello for instance, won by little over 700 votes and the margin can definitely be attributed to President Obama’s winning of Virginia on Election Day. The same thing can be said for Glenn Nye in VA-02. They can expect difficult re-election campaigns over the next year and a half.
If you are at liberty to discuss specific races the NRCC has at or near the top of the target list, can you identify some of these?
Well clearly most freshmen Democrats will be on the target list like Frank Kratovil (MD-01), Suzanne Kosmas (FL-24), Walt Minnick (ID-01), Alan Grayson (FL-08), Bobby Bright (AL-02), Parker Griffith (AL-05), Eric Massa (NY-29), Jim Himes (CT-04), and many others but there will also targets who got elected either in 2006 or prior like Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01), Charlie Melancon (LA-03), Steve Kagen (WI-08), and others.
Though things may change by autumn 2010, right now President Obama is much more popular than Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose approval is at a record low. Are we safe to presume that Republican candidates will be advised to position themselves in opposition to the Speaker rather than the President?
When we look at key swing districts, we’re continuing to find her numbers are not only bad, but there’s a sense that she’s the embodiment of the San Francisco liberal agenda. We have already gone on the offensive against what we call Pelosi’s Puppets, those are House Democrats who have no problem voting with Speaker Pelosi and her liberal causes more than 90 percent of the time. Then you have the Blue Dogs who are acting more and more like Pelosi’s lapdogs and with this latest CIA flap, the speaker will definitely be an important target for the NRCC and for the 2010 election.