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For US House candidates, who is the bigger liability, Clinton or Trump?

Rep. Greg Walden, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, says GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump isn't weighing down Republicans in contested races as much as Democrats are being hurt by the top of their ticket.

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Rep. Greg Walden, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, speaks at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast with reporters Friday.

Brian Dozier/The Christian Science Monitor

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In the most competitive races for House seats in 2016, Hillary Clinton hurts Democratic congressional candidates more than Donald Trump hurts Republican contenders.

That’s the view of Rep. Greg Walden (R) of Oregon, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). He spoke Friday at a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters.

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Representative Walden has not always had such a benign view of Mr. Trump’s impact on the effort Walden leads to keep the largest Republican House majority since 1928.

In December, after Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims entering the country, Walden was quoted by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report as saying, “it puts, certainly, competitive seats in jeopardy. We’ll have a much more difficult time” holding the House majority.

When asked about that comment at the breakfast, Walden said, “Things evolve and what we now know looking at the data is that Hillary Clinton is a bigger drag in our competitive seats than Donald Trump.” He added that while there may be an isolated district where that is not the case, “as we look overall, this is what we are seeing. They are either equal or she is less popular.”

When leaders of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) made a June breakfast appearance, they argued that Trump’s presence at the top of the Republican ticket would help Democratic House candidates. Kelly Ward, executive director of the DCCC, noted Trump’s rocky poll ratings among young and minority voters and said that voters in competitive districts “like Donald Trump the least.”  

Given the Republicans' strong showing in the 2014 election, winning 247 seats out of a total of 435, the NRCC is fighting to hold 26 seats in districts that were won by President Obama in 2012. “Everything we are seeing in the data in all these districts” indicates voters there are planning to keep splitting their ballots, says NRCC Executive Director Rob Simms.

Still, Walden concedes that keeping a Republican majority of historic proportions is challenging. “The reality is that we know we have got some seats that are going to be in play, including some where we have retirements and open seats, but [Democrats] have got some problems, too.”

Like the DCCC officials, the NRCC’s Walden was hesitant about predicting the outcome of the battle for House control this early in the election season. “If we had the election today, we would be in very good shape of maintaining pretty much around where we are at. I hope that continues as we go into the general election,” he said.