By Andrew Clevenger / The Bulletin
Last modified: September 04. 2012 1:13PM PST
Rep. Greg Walden speaks to the Oregon and Illinois delegations Wednesday.
TAMPA, Fla. — With the Republican National Convention in full swing Wednesday, Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, made the rounds, not to step into the spotlight but to rally the Oregon GOP.
Walden, the deputy chair of National Republican Congressional Committee, has risen into House leadership since his friend John Boehner, R-Ohio, became speaker of the House in 2011.
For Walden, Mitt Romney’s choice of House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan for the Republican vice president spot is high praise for the way Republican leadership in the House has conducted its business.
And Ryan agrees.
“(Ryan) said the other day on a conference call with my colleagues that this is really confirmational of how the House has led, that his selection really confirmed that the House was where dynamic new leadership was emerging,” Walden said Wednesday during an interview with The Bulletin.
“And he wasn’t speaking about himself — it was much bigger than just him.”
Walden is effusive in his praise of Ryan, who was first elected to Congress in 1998, the same year as Walden. Walden rattled off words like smart, likeable, articulate, persuasive and real to describe his friend.
“He can go as deep in the weeds as you need to go on just about any policy problem,” he said. “He can also discuss it in terms that the rest of us can understand.”
More importantly, Ryan has energized Republicans in Oregon, who have been energized by the chemistry between Romney and Ryan that has emerged since Ryan joined the ticket.
“What I’m finding and feeling in Oregon is Republicans are really fired up now that Paul Ryan’s on the ticket,” he said.
Ryan’s selection wasn’t a calculated decision designed to shore up an area where Romney is weak, the way John F. Kennedy chose longtime Texas Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson to help with problems appealing to southern voters, he said.
“This isn’t that. These are people who are feeding on each other because they want to solve problems. If that’s the message that gets through the clutter, Americans will like that message,” he said.
Ryan’s selection has opened the door for Independents and wavering Democrats to reconsider voting for the Republican candidates, he said.
Walden sat in House Speaker John Boehner’s box as Ryan’s speech at the convention drew roars from a raucous crowd late Wednesday.
“It’s only gotten stronger, both personally and professionally,” he said of his relationship with Boehner. “When he asked me to chair the (his transition team) a couple of years ago, I didn’t really know what all that meant. And I’m not sure he did. But he began to give me tasks and duties, and I began to put my shoulder into them and to work hard at it, and he liked the product.”
In addition to running for reelection — Walden has held town halls this year in each county in his district — he remains focused on helping other Republican candidates win or hold seats in the House.
“I’ve been in the majority and I’ve been in the minority. I can get a lot more done for Oregon and for Eastern and Central Oregon, in the majority than I was able to do in the minority,” he said.
Walden conceded that remarks by Missouri Rep. Todd Akin, who is trying to unseat Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, suggesting that women’s bodies can thwart pregnancies in cases of “legitimate rape,” have made his job harder.
“His comments defy science. They defy common sense. They are reprehensible,” Walden said. “They are way beyond regrettable, and he should, in the best interest of the country and the party and the future of the Senate, give someone else the opportunity to be the nominee.”
As the only Republican in Oregon’s congressional delegation, Walden is the de facto leader of the state’s GOP, and has high hopes for seeing more Republicans in Salem.
With a tie in the House of Representatives and a 16-14 minority in the state Senate, Walden said there are major opportunities for Republicans to gain control of the Legislature, and even the governor’s office. Republican candidates like Knute Buehler of Bend for secretary of state and Bruce Starr for Bureau of Labor and Industries commissioner are also making strong cases for statewide office, he said.
“I think Oregonians should never be taken for granted in their votes, and I think when you’ve had one-party rule for as long as we’ve had in Salem and in the governor’s office dating back to 1987, at some point, people say, ‘Is that the best we can do?’ ” he said.
“Think about states that you would perceive to be more liberal than Oregon that have had multiple Republican governors since we have: New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, California,” he said. “Oregonians fundamentally want a government that works, and they want an economy that’s better. And I can’t imagine that they’re very happy with either of those at this point.”