The chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) has received little credit for helping propel the GOP back into the House majority, which could complicate the party’s bid to retain the Speaker’s gavel.
The presidential field and a reinvigorated Republican National Committee are now competing with the NRCC for fundraising dollars. In this environment, some observers say, NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions’s (Texas) low profile might make it harder for the committee to expand its cash flow and defend its gains.
Former Rep. Tom Davis (Va.), who led the NRCC from 1998 to 2002, said that wasn’t surprising, because Sessions is “a team player” who doesn’t seek out notoriety.
“The guys who really benefited [from 2010] are those in the other leadership positions. All [Sessions] got out of it was a second term as NRCC chairman. Everyone else is climbing the ladder,” he said. “Pete deserves to get a bigger stage. I think it would help the House team.”
Davis noted it’s not unusual for credit to go to the wrong person in Washington.
“When we [retained] the House in 2002, Karl Rove was out front trying to take credit,” he said. “He didn’t run one House race.”
Meanwhile, Sessions was instrumental in helping the GOP capture 63 seats last year, campaigning for more than 150 candidates during the course of the cycle, aides say. But the Texan, who makes fewer media appearances than his colleagues in the GOP leadership, has done little to instill the perception that he was instrumental in the Republicans’ success. His style stands in contrast to that of, say, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who has talked up his fundraising and electoral success at the Republican Governors Association as he explores a presidential run.
Sessions, instead, emphasized the “teamwork” that took place — an unusual, low-key approach in a city where public perception is influential.
“We built the enthusiasm within our conference and the desire and will to win and our members got behind that and we worked as a team and a lot of people worked diligently on it. So I think it was a Republican team victory and the NRCC did amazingly well,” Sessions told The Hill.
Sessions's work was recognized by his colleagues, who unanimously backed him for a second term as NRCC chairman, and he's taken to the task of defending the GOP's fragile 24-seat advantage.
“We will proactively be encouraging our members to have the will to fight, the will to go actively recruit to bring to bear the best candidates, and we will match them up against Democrats who were supporting Nancy Pelosi’s agenda," he said. “It’s very apparent that we will have opportunities to play on offense."
Davis noted that Sessions’s accomplishment could be minimized because the GOP was so heavily favored last cycle. “A lot of its atmospherics, but you have to look at what he did with the atmospherics,” Davis said.
Under Sessions, the NRCC raised $122 million for the 2010 midterms — $10 million more than the committee raised in the 2008 cycle, according to NRCC figures. Sessions pledged to do better in 2012.
“Our vision statement is to take our half of the [House] floor and make it standing-room-only," he said, “and have to have the parliamentarian add folding chairs like they do at church, down the aisles.”