Oregon Republican Rep. Greg Walden chairs the committee charged with getting Republicans elected to the House of Representatives. And Dennis Linthicum wants to make sure that Walden himself does not get re-elected next year.
Linthicum, a Klamath County commissioner, announced a primary challenge to Walden on Wednesday. He spoke to The Daily Caller about his run on Friday, shortly before his decision was announced.
Walden, Linthicum says, “is fairly conservative” but “not conservative enough given the rural area that we live in.”
In particular, he cited Walden’s vote earlier this year against an amendment by Republican Rep. Justin Amash to stop the National Security Agency from collecting phone record data from Americans.
“Walden voted against that, and I think that’s a clear violation of guarantees that are in the Fourth Amendment,” Linthicum said.
Linthicum said his mere presence as a possible competitor had pushed Walden further to the right. Last week, Walden voted against a deal to end the partial government shutdown and raise the debt limit, putting him on the opposite side of Speaker of the House John Boehner. Linthicum told The Oregonian last week that he believes his challenge was what pushed Walden to vote the way he did.
“Right now I am leaning toward jumping into this because I see what a powerful impact even just having me on the street corner has done in the past month,” he told TheDC. “I think [Walden] is showing decidedly conservative colors, and I think that’s good for our part of America.”
Walden is the lone Republican member of Oregon delegation and has had a more liberal voting record than some of his Republican colleagues. In April, Walden criticized President Barack Obama for calling for Social Security reform, accusing him of “trying to balance his budget on the backs of seniors.” He said after: “I know it puts me at odds with some in our party, but that is what I believe,” he added. “But we don’t always agree on everything. We may disagree from time to time.
In 1999, he voted for mandatory background checks at gun shows. In 2007, he was one of just 37 Republicans to vote in favor of federal funding for stem-cell research, a bill that then President George W. Bush vetoed.
Linthicum says his vote on the shutdown and debt ceiling deal would have been the same as Walden’s, but he questioned the strategy of the shutdown.
He said he believes the “default language is false,” questioning that the United States would default on its debt if the debt ceiling were not raised, and said that the shutdown created a strategy where the focus a “do or die” battle about raising the debt ceiling.
The real issue, he said, is that “we as a nation spend too much and borrow too much.” Linthicum said that instead of “[bringing this conversation to a boil … at this critical time in the shutdown was really problematic,” and that, instead, “we should have been addressing this for the past decade.”
“That’s where I would have tried to steer the argument,” he said. “I would have loved for Greg Walden to be steering in that direction for the past decade.”
If Linthicum does indeed enter the race, and if he were to beat Walden in a primary, that would potentially put him the awkward position of seeking help in a general election from the organization chaired by the man he beat: the National Republican Congressional Committee.
“Deep down I struggle with that national chairmanship position that he holds,” Linthicum said, when asked about it.
“I think there’s something extremely attractive about the American experience that allows individuals to seek higher office from the ground up, from the ground movement, the grassroots movement upwards, instead of the chosen officials, the elites of the political sphere who are the career politicians, instead of them choosing individuals for our communities,” he said. “I think it’s much more appropriate for individuals within the community to seek representation at their level.”
“Does that bother me, or am I afraid of being snubbed, or whatever? … I don’t think I am, because Greg Walden and I have very similar ideas on a lot of issues, and I think this rural arena is a perfect place for us to give voice to those areas of concern for everyone here,” Linthicum added.
Asked about the primary, NRCC communications director Andrea Bozek told TheDC that they felt Walden was in a strong position to be re-elected.
“No one works harder for Oregon families than Greg Walden,” Bozek said. “We are confident that voters will return Greg to congress and they support his efforts to repeal Obamacare and reduce the size and cost of government.”
“Conservatives know that he is the one leading the fight to grow our majority and ensure President Obama never has total control of Washington again,” she added.
Linthicum is not the only one looking at a primary challenge to Walden. In April, the Club for Growth called for a primary of the NRCC chairman, after his comment on Obama’s budget.
Asked if they would consider supporting Linthicum, Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller told TheDC: “We haven’t met with Linthicum yet.”
But he added: “Obviously, Greg Walden has an atrocious record on pro-growth issues, so we’d be very interested in replacing him with a fiscally conservative alternative.”
Club for Growth’s potential involvement in a Walden primary has raised some hackles on the right.
“It’s unbelievably frustrating when you have an organization who is supposedly dedicated to promoting conservative principles trying to hype up a primary challenge to the person who is spending every single waking moment trying to make sure Nancy Pelosi is never speaker of the House again,” a Republican campaign operative told TheDC. “You would think they would want to be spending their energies helping make sure that Nancy Pelosi is never speaker again.”