The Freshmen Reps Top Republicans Couldn't Love More

Wherever they rank in Washington's power structure, lawmakers from key 2016 primary states are enjoying a bout of rock-star status.

A bunch of roses is displayed for sale at a flower shop on Valentine's Day February 14, 2012 in Beijing, China. (National Journal)

In the House, Rep. Rod Blum resides pretty far down the GOP totem pole. He's a first-term representative, he has no notable rank in leadership, and he's committee chairman of exactly nothing. So why, on a recent day, was Blum fielding a call from Jeb Bush? And why, for that matter, has just about every other Republican 2016 presidential contender come to Blum in a bid to curry favor?

Because Blum is from Iowa, home to the first contest of the 2016 presidential primaries, and in an ultra-competitive field his endorsement is highly sought after.

Compared to their more-senior counterparts, brand-new members of Congress typically exist on Washington's periphery. But when a White House nomination is on the line, an exception is made for newcomers who happen to hail from states hosting early primary contests—particularly Iowa and New Hampshire. And with a wealth of candidates scrapping for an edge, this year's Republican freshmen are getting showered with attention from White House hopefuls looking to make connections with local donors and activists.

"When you go to Washington as a freshman, you're rank-and-file and there's somewhat of an attitude of, 'Get in the back bleacher, there. You know the town is run based on seniority,'" Blum said in a phone interview from his home district. "And then when you come back here, you're hanging out with presidential candidates—potentially the next president of the United States."

Aside from Bush, Blum has spoken with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is scheduled to attend a private fundraiser and a separate public event with Blum in Iowa's 1st Congressional District this weekend.

Blum, at least, is looking to leverage the attention to raise his district's profile. On his call with Bush, "I told him I think he needs to get to Iowa and be seen here," Blum said. "I'd love to have him come to my district, and he told me he would."

Blum said that he is considering endorsing a candidate ahead of next year's Iowa caucuses, but that he won't make that decision for several months, adding that he is looking for a "genuine, authentic leader" who will energize the base.

Possible presidential candidates are also courting New Hampshire's Rep. Frank Guinta, another member of the new Congress who won a seat in 2014. Guinta, however, has seen this show before: He served for one term in Congress before losing his seat in the 2012 election, so he was in office during New Hampshire's last presidential primary contest. In addition, he was the mayor of Manchester, New Hampshire's largest city, during the 2008 campaign.

Guinta said he has met or spoken with seven Republicans who are considering a 2016 presidential run: Bush, Christie, Paul, Jindal, Perry, former New York Gov. George Pataki, and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, whom he singled out as someone who has impressed him.

Guinta did not make an endorsement during the 2012 primaries, but he backed former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani in the 2008 election. Guinta said he still wants to "kick the tires" a bit more before he decides whether to get involved in the 2016 race.

"Like anybody, I'd love to talk to every presidential candidate," Guinta said. "We kind of joke in New Hampshire, 'Unless you've met us five times, you haven't secured our vote yet.'"

Unlike Blum and Guinta, freshman Rep. David Young of Iowa is playing coy about any interaction he's had with the GOP's presidential prospects. "Congressman Young has spoken to several expected contenders and a few more that people are not yet talking about," Young spokesman Zack Roday said in a statement. "He is not willing to divulge names from either list."

As these three members of Congress weigh to what degree they will get involved in their party's presidential nominating fight, they must also factor in their own political futures. Blum, Guinta, and Young all represent swing districts that Democrats are sure to target in 2016—in fact, one Democrat has already entered the race to challenge Blum—so they are particularly interested in having a strong presidential candidate at the top of the ticket.

While these members' reelection campaigns could certainly benefit from the financial and volunteer networks of their party's presidential candidates, taking sides in an intra-party battle could rub some local Republicans the wrong way just before their names appear on the ballot again.

"It's going to be a very wide open field here, and because Iowans view the process as so personal, if you choose a candidate you certainly run the risk of alienating some of probably your best supporters too," former Iowa Republican Party chairman Matt Strawn said. "You're going to need every one of those Republicans in the trenches for you in the general, as they volunteer going door-to-door and working the phones."

Paul Young, the former executive director of the New Hampshire GOP, said backing a presidential candidate in the primary would be "a bit of a double-edged sword" for Guinta.

"However, in New Hampshire, we're used to every four years dividing up among candidates and getting back together after the fact," Young added. "Most people understand the primary process and are not offended if an elected official doesn't go with their candidate."

Voters in Iowa and New Hampshire won't go to the polls for another year, though, so these House freshmen won't be pressed to make a decision anytime soon. For now, they can just sit back and enjoy the courtship.