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Rep. Greg Walden Remains Measured In Praise Of Donald Trump At RNC

<p>Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., addresses the opening day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Monday, July 18, 2016.</p>

J. Scott Applewhite


Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., addresses the opening day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Monday, July 18, 2016.

Oregon Rep. Greg Walden skipped around Cleveland Monday talking with reporters, donors and delegates in a short speech at the convention.

His message: Donald Trump may be a polarizing candidate, but he’s not going to endanger the big Republican majority in the House.

Walden, Oregon’s only Republican member of Congress, is the guy his fellow Republicans have put in charge of making sure that they stay in charge. He heads House GOP’s campaign committee, a cash-rich political operation run out of an office building on Capitol Hill.

As Trump moved toward seizing the nomination this spring, Walden’s Democratic rivals started thinking they could maybe pick up the 30 seats it would take to seize control. They’ve continued to talk up their chances in a series of interviews and memos.

“Right now what we are seeing is opportunity that has only gotten stronger because of the ugliness and divisiveness of Donald Trump," Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, recently told NBC Latino.

Walden has had his own issues with Trump. At the beginning of the primary season, he criticized Trump for calling on a ban on Muslim immigration to the U.S., saying it violated American values.

But after the other Republican presidential candidates dropped out, Walden endorsed Trump. He said the New York businessman is a better alternative than Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Walden remains somewhat measured in his praise of Trump. Asked Monday if he thought Trump had the temperament to be president, the congressman told OPB that “I think he can” because he will “surround himself with solid people.”

In his convention speech, Walden mentioned Trump just once, saying that Trump “would be a partner” in the agenda laid out by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc.

Where Walden gets impassioned is when he expresses his confidence that House Republicans will at most lose only a few of the 247 seats they now hold.

In the competitive House districts, Walden repeatedly said Monday, his organization’s polling shows that Republican representatives don’t have to worry about being tied to Trump.

“In most cases I would tell you that Donald Trump is more popular than Hillary Clinton,” Walden said in a breakfast seminar sponsored by The Atlantic magazine and carried on C-Span.

He also said he didn’t have any issues with House Republicans who distanced themselves from Trump. That’s up to each one to decide what is best for their district. And Walden also argued that Clinton’s own low popularity ratings can be a problem for Democratic candidates in many districts.

In the final analysis, Walden said, House districts remain their own unique microcosms, not always subject to national winds. He loves to recite stories about Republican members who work on such things as protecting funding for local military bases.

Walden himself is in one of those local microcosms. While he holds the vast reaches of eastern Oregon in the state’s 2nd Congressional District, he has not had any success at getting a Republican elected to one of the state’s other four districts.

Instead, he quipped at one point Monday, “As the only Republican from Oregon, I am indeed protected by the ESA.”

Copyright 2016 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Jeff Mapes is a senior political reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Previously, Jeff covered state and national politics for The Oregonian for nearly 32 years. He has covered numerous presidential, congressional, gubernatorial and ballot measure campaigns, as well as many sessions of the Legislature, stretching back to 1985. Jeff graduated from San Jose State University with a B.A. in journalism.