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Following GOP Losses, Emmer Poised to be Next NRCC Chairman

Minnesota Republican hasn’t yet laid out specific priorities to win back House

Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer is running unopposed in Wednesday's leadership elections to be the next chairman of the NRCC. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer is running unopposed in Wednesday's leadership elections to be the next chairman of the NRCC. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Less than a week after losing over 30 seats in the House, the chamber’s Republicans have coalesced around the next person to lead their campaign committee.

Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer is running unopposed Wednesday to be the next chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, replacing Ohio Rep. Steve Stivers. Along with California Rep. Mimi Walters, whose race has not yet been called, Emmer was one of two deputy NRCC chairs during the 2018 cycle.

Emmer’s message to the GOP conference Tuesday evening was simple: “I want to work for you.”

And what did he say he would do as chairman?

“There was no real discussion at this point,” Emmer said.

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Some members suggested Emmer had offered them a hint of what he’d like to do in the job.  

Texas Rep. Roger Williams, who lost the NRCC race to Stivers in 2016, is pleased that Emmer reached out to him about going back to some of his proposals from two years ago. Williams had proposed lowering dues to get more members to pay them.

“You can’t continue to raise money from yourselves,” Williams said Tuesday, stressing the need for members to raise money from “our customers.”

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Arkansas Rep. French Hill spoke with Emmer over the weekend and conveyed his concerns about GOP fundraising this cycle. Small-dollar donations to Democratic candidates overwhelmed dozens of House GOP incumbents.

Hill said Emmer committed to analyzing the platform ActBlue, which is used by almost every Democratic campaign to raise money online, and figuring out how to develop a Republican counterpart.

A safe seat

A former member of the Minnesota House and a talk radio host, Emmer was elected in 2014 to replace GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann. He represents a safe Republican seat in central Minnesota that President Donald Trump carried by 26 points in 2016.

Emmer implied that his position in a deep-red House seat will allow him to focus on running the NRCC rather than having to worry about winning re-election.

Before the election, some GOP operatives and members had suggested it’d be good to have a chairman who knows first-hand what it’s like to run in a swing district. But they recognize it’d be difficult to balance re-election with the travel and fundraising expectations of a chairman.

“The problem with the NRCC is you have to be above the fray some; you can’t be fighting for your life,” said Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman, a perennial Democratic target who lost last week. He thinks Emmer is sympathetic to the struggles of swing-district members, even if he comes from a safe district.

“I think I’m in a position to commit to the team. And it doesn’t really matter. I think everybody’s going to be doing the work,” Emmer said. “This is about everybody grabbing a hold of the rope and pulling the team across the line in 24 months.”

Former NRCC Chairman Tom Cole suggested that Emmer wouldn’t be working alone as the GOP looks to regain the majority in 2020. The Oklahoma Republican said Kevin McCarthy, who is expected to lead House Republicans next Congress, will likely play a leading role in campaign strategy.

“I don’t have any doubt that Kevin will have a lot to say and that Tom basically will be working with him and for him because Kevin’s the quarterback of the team, assuming he [is elected minority leader] this week,” Cole said. “At that point, he has the right to call the plays.”

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