Adding to the build-up, the next NRCC chairman may have to cater to the unpredictable whims of Donald Trump in a third White House bid, while pivoting around other candidates who could join a Republican primary. Hudson and LaHood say they are ready for all aspects of the job.
“Tom Emmer has done an amazing job. … And so, if I had the opportunity to be president, I’m not going to come in and take down what’s there,” Hudson said in an interview. “I want to go build about what he did.”
When asked why he should take the helm of the campaign, Hudson, who is already speaking with colleagues about his aspirations to lead the NRCC, highlighted his efforts to help the party win back the House this fall, working with nominees for travel and fundraising for the House GOP Committee. LaHood’s pitch is similar.
“We need someone who’s going to be a prolific fundraiser, someone who’s going to advocate for and grow our majority, a consistent conservative team player, and someone who has organizational skills,” LaHood said, Current NRCC Vice President of Finance. “If you look at the last four years of my involvement with NRC, I’ve been successful in many of these areas.
On paper, the two don’t look very different. Both are in their 50s and currently serve as NRC executives and are popular at the GOP conference. And both have plenty of knowledge on Capitol Hill, albeit from different perspectives: Hudson has long-established ties to the party from his days as a congressional staffer, beginning stints as leader cabinet minister and campaign manager before becoming a legislator himself in 2013.
For LaHood, Congress is in his blood. Her father, former Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.), served in the House for 15 years before becoming the only Republican in President Barack Obama’s cabinet. Before young Lahood came to Congress in 2015, he was a federal prosecutor.
The race is still somewhat dormant, overshadowed by the crowded and aggressive battle of three Republicans for the majority whip in the upcoming Congress, as well as the drama unfolding over the role of House conference speaker as the GOP is focused on sprinting across the strip to regain control of the chamber in November.
Hudson can credibly claim that he has broader experience in various roles at the NRCC, currently serving as vice president of the Patriot program that helps re-elect vulnerable incumbents — the Republican version of the Democrats’ vocal “frontliners.” Previously, he served as NRCC’s Vice President of Finance and Membership Chair at previous conventions.
LaHood is the current vice president of finance and led the NRCC’s 2019 Spring Dinner, where Trump delivered a keynote address.
As similar as Hudson and LaHood may seem, they are known among their colleagues for differing strengths, according to conversations with a dozen GOP lawmakers. Hudson’s influence comes from his conference connections that resulted from his time working for other members, while LaHood’s allies pointed to his fundraising numbers.
North Carolina Rep. Patrick McHenry, the top Republican on the House Financial Services Committee and a strong party player, said the two are “quality candidates” but lent his support to his colleague from the of Origin, praising Hudson’s ability to be an “excellent president of the NRC. 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 doggedness on fundraising calls, “Tony, you’re 500 percent over your dues, but we we need more.” (Gonzales, co-chair of the NRCC’s “Young Gun” program for promising young candidates, is actually 750% over his dues.)
And first-term Rep. Julia Letlow (R-La.) credited Hudson with “going the extra mile” when she came to Congress as a widowed single mother of two young children. Hudson even gave her one of his cribs, Letlow recalled.
But another House Republican, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe a sensitive situation, noted that Hudson may face a conundrum: This lawmaker backs LaHood for the NRCC but plans to send pro-Hudson signals for now because North Carolina sits on the GOP Steering Committee, which decides committee assignments and most of the hammers.
While LaHood’s supporters credit his ability to raise money — a huge factor in all leadership contests, but especially the NRCC’s donor-centric helm — Hudson isn’t far behind him in the Fund raising. Hudson has donated $1.3 million to members and candidates so far this cycle, in addition to more than $1 million to the NRCC as well as $3.2 million raised for his personal campaign and his CAP leadership.
LaHood raised $3.4 million, giving him over $4 million in cash this round. Combined with his personal campaign and PAC leadership, he has given more than $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 has done a great job as National Finance Chairman at NRCC. And we’re going to do record fundraising this cycle, which we need to do,” said Rep. Carol Miller (RW.Va.), the campaign’s vice president of recruiting. “As the next round of presidential elections approaches, we need a strong president. I think his experience and the success he has had over the past two cycles will stand him in good stead.
There’s also a tough decision for LaHood to make: Taking over the NRCC could mean an uncomfortable decision to drop one of his coveted spots on the committee. He now sits on the influential Tax Drafting Ways and Means Committee and the Intelligence Committee appointed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
In a party where regional identity can mean everything, geographic alliances like McHenry’s with Hudson can prove a deciding factor. LaHood can build on his Midwestern base, but if Hudson can get the entire North Carolina delegation — in addition to the 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 is a great guy, there’s no doubt about it, but…Richard Hudson worked for the Texas Chiefs. He has a connection to Texas.