Few people in Washington are busier these days than Brian Walsh, the political director of the National Republican Congressional Committee. The NRCC has had a wind in its sails for much of this election cycle, but now it faces an intense final four weeks of making sure that Republicans win the 39 seats they need to take back control of the House — and perhaps many, many more. NRO recently caught up with Walsh to get his perspective on this phase of the campaign.
NRO: How many seats would you consider “in play,” and how many would the GOP have to win for you to think, “We had a good night and did our job well”? Forty seats? Fifty seats?
Brian Walsh: Even with the ones we have to defend, you’re talking about probably somewhere in the 90s, or somewhere between the 80s and the 90s. I’m somewhat bullish, because I don’t think the full story has been told yet. Every single week in September, we saw new races come on the playing field where we had been watching but had been somewhat skeptical. Now we’re seeing survey data indicating they’re competitive.
What’s a good night? We win a majority back. NRCC chairman Pete Sessions has said from the beginning that our mission is to retire Nancy Pelosi as Speaker, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. There are a lot of predictions out there right now, some people saying 40, some people saying 50 or more, but we have to win 39. That is our first job; we have to get the gavel back from Nancy Pelosi. Then we can talk whether we have a three-seat majority, a ten-seat majority, or a 30-seat majority.
NRO: The value of achieving that goal is obvious, but in an environment such as this year’s, is there a danger of aiming too low or playing it too safe? Wouldn’t winning 40 feel like you left seats on the table?
Brian Walsh: That’s a resource-allocation question. It’s easy for people on the outside to sit back and say, “You’re not spending your money wisely,” or, “You should be getting into all of these other seats.” In the end, it comes down to dollars and sense.
We’re not going to leave a candidate who’s in a competitive race exposed so that he’s widely outspent by Democrats. But when it comes to finance, we have a twofold problem. On the one hand, we will be outspent by DCCC, and on the other, we’ve got a lot of competitive races where it’s the NRCC against both the DCCC and the incumbent.
NRO: Is it fair to say you would rather have 40 races where you feel really confident about your chances than 80 races where you feel pretty good but closer to 50/50?
Brian Walsh: Yes. When a lot of the outside folks were declaring that the House was won, if you talked to the folks in this building, we said, “Look, we feel pretty optimistic, but the battle has only just begun.” I don’t want to dampen expectations, but I do want everybody to be a little more pragmatic. Our challengers may be leading in more than 25 or 30 races, but that doesn’t mean their chances of winning are over 50 percent. That doesn’t mean that the leads are 10 or 15 points. Are there some like that? Sure. We’ve got some today that I think are in the bank, but you still have to look at these individual campaigns from a mechanical standpoint.
You may have a candidate who is only down four points, but then you see the district has three media markets and it costs $1.8 million to go into all three for two weeks. Do I walk away from some of those other races to fund that one for that $1.8 million?
If I have a candidate up ten points today, but he only has $100,000 in the bank and he’s going up against an incumbent with $1.6 million, should we walk away from that race? Therein lies the big problem; we have to fight not only the DCCC but often the incumbent Democrat as well. When you add up the opponent and the DCCC, these candidates are often getting outspent three or four to one.