The campaign to lead the House GOP’s campaign arm for 2024 is heating up before the midterms even end.
With Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) set to cede the National Republican Congressional Committee as he seeks the whip position next year, Reps. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) and Darin LaHood (R-Ill.) are in a two-man race to take on a role that will require navigating tough political terrain.
House Republicans hope and expect to be on strong footing in swing states come 2024 after a midterm cycle that has them eyeing as many as 30 pickups. But defending a majority also means the threat of losing more seats — and serving as campaign chief during a presidential election, when GOP donors face more competition for their dollars, will make the job harder.
Adding to the upward climb, the next NRCC chair may have to respond to the unpredictable whims of Donald Trump during a third White House bid, while also pivoting around other candidates who might join a Republican primary. Both Hudson and LaHood say they are up for all aspects of the job.
“Tom Emmer has done an incredible job. … And so, if I had the opportunity to serve as chairman, I’m not gonna go in and dismantle what’s there,” Hudson said in an interview. “I want to go build on what he’s done.”
When asked why he should take the campaign lead spot, Hudson, who’s already talking with colleagues about his aspirations to lead the NRCC, emphasized his efforts to help the party win back the House this fall, from working with candidates to traveling and fundraising for the House GOP committee. LaHood’s pitch is similar.
“We need somebody that’s going to be a prolific fundraiser, somebody that’s going to defend and grow our majority, a consistent conservative team player and somebody that’s got organizational skills,” said LaHood, NRCC’s current Finance vice chair. “If you look at the last four years of my involvement with the NRCC, I’ve succeeded in many of those areas.”
On paper, the two don’t seem to differ much. Both are 50-somethings who currently serve in NRCC leadership and are well-liked in the GOP conference. And both have plenty of Capitol Hill knowledge, albeit from different vantage points: Hudson has long-established ties within the party from his time as a congressional staffer, notching stints as a chief of staff and a campaign manager before he became a lawmaker himself in 2013.
For LaHood, Congress is in his blood. His father, former Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), served in the House for 15 years before becoming the lone Republican in President Barack Obama’s Cabinet. Before the younger Lahood came to Congress in 2017 he was a federal prosecutor.
The race is still something of a sleeper, getting overshadowed by the crowded and aggressive three-Republican battle for majority whip next Congress as well as the drama playing out over the House conference chair role as the GOP focuses on sprinting through the tape to take back control of the chamber in November.
Hudson can credibly argue that he has broader experience with various roles at the NRCC, currently serving as vice chair of the Patriot program that helps reelect vulnerable incumbents — the Republican version of Democrats’ vocal “frontliners.” He previously served as the NRCC’s finance vice chair and recruitment chair in previous Congresses.
LaHood is the current finance vice chair and helmed the NRCC’s 2019 spring dinner, where Trump gave a keynote address.
As alike as Hudson and LaHood might seem, they’re known among colleagues for different strengths, according to conversations with a dozen GOP lawmakers. Hudson’s clout comes from his relationships within the conference that resulted from his time working for other members, while allies of LaHood pointed to his fundraising numbers.
North Carolina Rep. Patrick McHenry, the top Republican on the House Financial Services Committee and a powerful player in the party, said both are “quality candidates” but is throwing his support to his home-state colleague, praising Hudson’s ability to be an “excellent NRCC chair.” McHenry’s friendship with Hudson dates back to their college years, he noted.
Another Hudson backer, Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas), joked about his friend’s relentlessness in fundraising calls: “Tony, you’re 500 percent over your dues, but we need more.” (Gonzales, a co-chair of the NRCC’s “Young Gun” program for promising younger candidates, is actually 750 percent over his dues.)
And first-term Rep. Julia Letlow (R-La.) credited Hudson with having “gone the extra mile” when she came to Congress as a widowed single mother of two young children. Hudson even handed off one of his baby cribs to her, Letlow recalled.
But another House Republican, who spoke on condition of anonymity to outline a sensitive situation, noted that Hudson might face a whipping conundrum: This lawmaker supports LaHood for NRCC but is considering sending pro-Hudson signals for now because the North Carolinian sits on the GOP Steering Committee, which decides committee assignments and most gavels.
While supporters of LaHood credit his ability to rake in cash — a huge factor in all leadership races but especially the donor-centric NRCC helm — Hudson isn’t far behind him in fundraising. Hudson has donated $1.3 million to members and candidates so far this cycle, in addition to over $1 million to the NRCC as well as $3.2 million raised for his personal campaign and leadership PAC.
LaHood has raised $3.4 million, giving him more than $4 million cash on hand this cycle. Combined with his personal campaign and leadership PAC, he has given over $1.32 million to candidates and incumbents as well as $2.35 million to the NRCC.
“You could say [LaHood’s] a rock star. He’s done a great job as the National Finance chairman at the NRCC. And we’re gonna do record-breaking fundraising this cycle, which is what we need to do,” said Rep. Carol Miller (R-W.Va.), the campaign arm’s recruitment vice chair. “Coming into the next presidential election cycle, we need a strong chairman. I think his experience and the success he’s had in the last couple of cycles will stand him in good stead.”
There’s also a tough decision ahead for LaHood: Taking over NRCC could mean an uncomfortable decision to drop one of his coveted committee spots. He now sits on the influential tax-writing Ways and Means panel and the intelligence panel appointed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
In a party where regional identity can mean everything, geographical alliances like McHenry’s with Hudson may prove a deciding factor. LaHood can lean on his Midwest base, but if Hudson can get the entire North Carolina delegation — on top of other southern members — to rally around him, it could propel him to victory.
“He’s from a more conservative district,” Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas) said of Hudson. “Darin’s a great guy, no question about it, but … Richard Hudson worked for Texas chiefs. He’s got a Texas connection.”