WASHINGTON -- The representative charged with helping Republicans get elected to the House is now facing a primary challenge himself. On Wednesday, Klamath County Commissioner Dennis Linthicum announced he would challenge Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, for the Republican nomination in Oregon's 2nd District.
The challenge could end up affecting how Walden handles his duties as NRCC chair. At the very least it seems likely that one of the more public faces of the GOP leadership may now have to adopt a more conservative posture.
Walden strayed from conservative orthodoxy by opposing cuts to Social Security through the adoption of the chained CPI in calculating cost of living adjustments -- a proposal embraced by many top Republicans and even President Barack Obama. However, Walden centered his objections, however, on the president's support for the move, rather than on the GOP's. "I thought it's very intriguing in that his budget really lays out kind of a shocking attack on seniors, if you will," he told CNN in April.
Walden tacked right by voting against the Reid-McConnell deal that ended the shutdown, and was one of only two members of House Republican leadership to do so. "This temporary plan does nothing to address the epic problem: spending borrowed money we don't have and cannot sustain," he said in a statement explaining his vote. "Enough is enough."
The vote apparently wasn't sufficient to ward off Linthicum. "As we saw with the recent shutdown debate -- ordinary individuals and businesses are punished for Washington's inability to manage our money," Linthicum said in a statement. "I want to stand up for everyday Oregonians, the farmers, ranchers, parents, students, entrepreneurs and individuals who make our country great with their ingenuity, work ethic and community spirit."
Linthicum, in an interview with The Huffington Post, said that he would've also voted against the deal, and suggested that the threat of a primary challenge is the only reason Walden voted against it.
"He knew how I would vote. He wants to look like me, sound like me, act like me. He would've joined with [House Speaker] John Boehner," Linthicum said. He added that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the driving force behind the shutdown, is doing a "fine job."
Walden argued that the challenge could help Democrats. "I figure my primary opponent, probably -- when he announced this week -- made Nancy Pelosi's day," Walden told conservative radio host Mike Huckabee. "We'll have our differences of opinion on different things as Republicans, we all know that. But for heavens sake, those are tiny -- tiny -- compared with what will happen if Nancy Pelosi comes back."
Linthicum dismissed the complications that a primary challenge could create for Walden's job as NRCC chair. "Was Walden elected to the 2nd District representative so that he could run the NRCC, or was he elected to represent his taxpaying constituents?" Linthicum asked. "If he's elected to drive home the needs of the citizens that he's supposed to represent, then whether he's effective or not at the NRCC doesn't really matter."
The Club For Growth encouraged a primary challenge for Walden last April after he opposed the chained CPI. But the group is withholding judgment on Linthicum.
"We're watching the race," spokesman Barney Keller said in an email.
Linthicum said that he backed the use of the chained CPI and went further, saying that Social Security and Medicare were "unsustainable" in their current form. However, he made it clear he didn't want to revoke benefits for current recipients.
"I'm suggesting we work out a plan for removing government intervention into these people's lives and let them take their needs out into the marketplace," he said. "Because frankly, even though you may think that Medicare is providing a service that meets the needs of people, it's not servicing hundreds of thousands of others."
A Walden spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This article has been updated with comment from Linthicum and Walden's remarks to Huckabee.
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