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How many House seats does NRCC chairman Greg Walden think GOP will gain?

Rep. Greg Walden, speaking at a Monitor breakfast Friday, says that national security, both at home and abroad, is 'popping' as an issue with voters.

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NRCC chairman Greg Walden, speaking at a Monitor breakfast Friday, predicted the GOP could increase its House majority to 245 seats.

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor

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Republicans started their election year focused on “Obamacare,” but national security is now “popping” as an issue, said Rep. Greg Walden (R) of Oregon at a Monitor breakfast.

“Americans feel pretty insecure about what’s happening in the world and at home,” said the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, who is in charge of winning more seats for the GOP-controlled House. The sense that things are “out of control” – reflected in the president’s low approval ratings – gives Republicans the opportunity to pick up 10 or 11 more seats, Representative Walden said.

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Playing on the national security theme, the NRCC on Friday released four video ads that painted Democratic opponents as weak on terrorism and border security. The Affordable Care Act is “still a big issue” outside of Washington, and the GOP is emphasizing it in ads, Walden said, but a summer in which migrant children flooded the southern border and videotapes of American journalists being beheaded by the Islamic State terrorist group have spiked as issues, he said.

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He said he didn’t know whether national security would eclipse jobs and the weak economic recovery as a top concern for voters but they have contributed to the president’s low approval ratings, which act as a headwind against Democrats. 

Even the Democrats’ superior cash position can’t make up for those winds, he said. 

“There’s not much you can do to overcome that,” he said, recalling the midterm elections of 2006, when Democrats swept Congress in a referendum against George W. Bush’s handling of the Iraq war and hurricane Katrina. 

He said that winning 245 GOP seats in the House (that would be a gain of 11 seats) is “an achievable goal,” and pointed to California as a state ripe for gains. The independent Cook Political Report is more circumspect, saying the gains could be anywhere from 2 seats to 12.

But Walden, who relishes his job traveling the country on behalf of candidates, said that he’s seeing a “measured shift” toward Republicans in virtually every poll he’s seen. Reaching the GOP goal would further strengthen the Republicans’ hands in the House – already strong because of redistricting after 2010 – and put them in a strong position for 2016.

Anticipating that the Senate will also flip to GOP control, Walden said that the Republicans in both chambers are working together “behind the scenes” on a governing agenda and timeline for after the election.