The Emmer Effect: GOP banks on big win in 6th to boost candidates statewide

MinnPost photo by Devin Henry
6th District congressional candidate Tom Emmer sang fellow Republican and Senate candidate Mike McFadden's praises at an event in St. Cloud last month.

WASHINGTON — Before a meeting with St. Cloud area businesspeople last month, someone asked 6th District congressional candidate Tom Emmer whether he or Senate candidate Mike McFadden should speak first.

Emmer was quick and emphatic: McFadden should start. And when Emmer got his first chance to speak, he devoted much of his time to talking up McFadden’s credentials.

“There’s a big change that’s coming in this country on the federal level and on the state level,” Emmer said. “And frankly I’m excited to be running with a guy named Mike McFadden, because of his background, which is practical experience, because as that change comes, hopefully there will be more of us who offer solutions.”

Emmer's 6th District strength
The map below shows Emmer's share of the vote during the 2010 gubernatorial election, by precinct. Current district boundaries are overlaid in gray and the 6th District is highlighted in green.
Emmer votes by district, 2010 gubernatorial race
Total votes won by Emmer in 2010, with precinct totals assigned to current district boundaries. (District boundaries were changed by redistricting in 2012.)
Source: Minnesota Secretary of State

The 6th Congressional District was the district where Emmer won the most votes during his by-a-nose defeat in the 2010 gubernatorial race. Now he's the odds-on favorite to win his U.S. House race this fall, and Republicans are hoping to leverage his candidacy in the deeply red 6th to run up the score there and help other GOP candidates on the ballot, especially at the top of the ticket.

“I think he will be a congressman who will pay a lot of attention to the people of his district, and that approach to campaigning lends itself, obviously, to driving out the vote and getting people to turn out for his candidacy,” Minnesota GOP Chairman Keith Downey said.

Mid-50s is the goal

Emmer adviser David FitzSimmons said the campaign has two goals: win his race against DFL candidate Joe Perske with a tally in the mid-50 percent range, and drive up GOP turnout so candidates like McFadden and gubernatorial challenger Jeff Johnson can match that result.

FitzSimmons compared that with 2008, the last time Minnesota had a competitive Senate race. U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, then a freshman facing a three-way race for re-election, pulled in only 46 percent of the vote in the 6th. Then-Sen. Norm Coleman did only a little better there, FitzSimmons said, winning about 48 percent against two opponents. He fell just 312 votes short of Al Franken statewide. A stronger Republican performance in the 6th would have made the difference in that race.

“Your statewide candidates have to get above 50 percent even in a three-way race, and have to get about even 55 [percent] in the 6th district to really pull it through,” he said.

Middle-ticket coattails?

The applicable political science theory here might be the idea of the coattail effect, that a favorite candidate at the top of a ticket — a presidential candidate, for example — can help boost candidates from the same party in other races. They’re “riding his coattails.”

It’s less often that a middle-ticket candidate like Emmer is able to do the same, University of Minnesota political science professor Kathryn Pearson said, since top-ticket races tend to mobilize voting blocs more than anything else. But GOP officials are banking on Emmer’s political organization, fundraising base and name ID leftover from his 2010 run to give him a similar impact in the 6th this fall.

That means everything from get-out-the-vote drives, many of which will be coordinated by the state party, to joint events like his August appearance with McFadden.

“Our campaign has been working closely with Tom Emmer’s team for the past few months,” McFadden spokesman Tom Erickson said in a statement. “Tom has an impressive grassroots organization and a top-flight political team. Democrats have all but given up on the 6th District race and we look forward to a strong finish from Tom and the entire GOP ticket in the most Republican district in the state.”

McFadden and Emmer talked to the St. Cloud Chamber of Commerce the day after the state primaries (there's some overlap between the two campaigns as well: FitzSimmons advised the McFadden campaign ahead of its endorsing convention win in May). Johnson hasn’t been with Emmer since an early endorsed candidate fly-around in June, a campaign official said, but there should be more coordinated campaign events this fall.

Emmer could help down-ballot Republicans, too, though that impact will be muted since Republicans hold most of legislative seats in the 6th District. The conservative Minnesota Jobs Coalition, though, has St. Cloud-area DFL Rep. Zachary Dorholt on its list of targets this fall.

Running as congressman-in-waiting

FitzSimmons said Emmer’s approach isn’t going to be much different from what incumbents like Reps. John Kline and Erik Paulsen do for Republican candidates in their districts. But those districts are — Kline and Paulsen themselves aside — only marginally Republican-leaning, and “district-wise, there isn’t quite as much juice that they can squeeze out like you have in the 6th,” FitzSimmons said.

In some ways, Emmer is setting himself up as a congressman-in-waiting. In June, for instance, he established a personal political action committee called a leadership PAC, a common vehicle for congressional incumbents to raise money and spread it around to likeminded candidates.

Emmer’s PAC, the Viking PAC, hasn't raised much money yet and has only made two donations, including a $2,300 check to 8th District candidate Stewart Mills, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. But just by opening a leadership PAC, Emmer is beginning to do what a member of Congress is expected to do once he takes office.

Some of his strength in the 6th, though, may dampen any sort of Emmer-driven voter mobilization effort there, Pearson said. Competitive races tend to drive turnout, and for now, Emmer’s simply isn’t.

“Emmer can’t make the case to voters, ‘please come out and vote for me’ because his race is so close,” Pearson said.

But he can do so for McFadden and Johnson if they stump together, she said, and Downey predicted GOP voters will be otherwise enthused to turn out and vote against Gov. Mark Dayton or Sen. Al Franken in November.

“I think between the Republican interest in getting rid of one-party rule in St. Paul and reversing the Obama-Franken agenda in D.C., we’ll have a base motivated and ready to turn out,” he said.

Devin Henry can be reached at dhenry@minnpost.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry

Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by David Frenkel on 09/05/2014 - 11:09 am.

    same rhetoric

    The political reality is whoever wins the 6th district congressional race will be a freshman senator with virtually no political power in DC. For better or worst keeping incumbents raises their seniority and allows for more pet projects and money for MN. Like it or not that is how it works in DC.

    • Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 09/08/2014 - 08:14 am.

      Wrong house

      If Emmer wins the 6th, he would be a freshman representative with control of the House in his party’s hands. Just one of hundreds, but hardly powerless.

  2. Submitted by Dan Landherr on 09/05/2014 - 11:48 am.

    Based on that map Emmer would bomb in the 8th

    Mills shouldn’t be seen in public with Emmer after he looks at Emmer’s disastrous ratings in his district.

    • Submitted by Henk Tobias on 09/06/2014 - 06:38 pm.

      Mills shouldn’t be heard either..

      …better to be thought a fool than open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.

  3. Submitted by Kenneth Kjer on 09/05/2014 - 12:17 pm.

    Big win in the 6th

    I think the GOP should actually talk to some of us Republicans in the 6th. I know a lot of people who would have voted for Bachmann, that won’t vote for Emmer, myself included. Also McFadden is becoming a laughing stock with ads that really are insulting to most peoples intelligence. Emmer will probably win in the 6th, but that is only because the Dems don’t have a candidate who is doing anything. I know one vote he won’t get.

  4. Submitted by E Gamauf on 09/05/2014 - 02:29 pm.

    Cut from the Same Cardboard CoatTails!

    There is nothing even close to exciting about these guys.
    They are cut from the same dough.

    Putting a bow tie on the same tired GOP policies doesn’t make them new.

    Reversing all the stuff that a whole lot of Minnesotans are happy with?

    WHY?

    If the guy running for the big senate office has to be introduced & bolstered by the 2 year guy running in the 6th – says the SENATORIAL candidate isn’t that much of a big dog.

    (I keep forgetting, these guys all talk like they’re running for Governor,
    but they’re actually running for the chorus line).

  5. Submitted by Steve Hoffman on 09/05/2014 - 05:17 pm.

    Need a new party for the 6th

    I nominate the name EEA party. For “Embarrassed Enough Already.” Anyone but Emmer, who makes Bachmann seem almost reasonable.

  6. Submitted by Clayton Haapala on 09/06/2014 - 07:52 am.

    Low bar

    The best that can be said of Paulsen and Kline is that they enable bad behavior. At a rate of $174,000/yr. I suppose Emmer is qualified to join them if that’s all you want.

  7. Submitted by E Gamauf on 09/06/2014 - 08:52 am.

    CosPlay is all the rage

    Cosplay – dressing like superheroes, even has a TV show.

    Fighting off the image of 2 cartoon chipmunks arguing over who goes first, I am left with this observation:

    Just because Emmer defers to wear Robin’s red & green tights,
    does not make McFadden look like Batman!

  8. Submitted by Henk Tobias on 09/06/2014 - 06:40 pm.

    Grasping at straws…

    …wishful thinking, Minnesota GOP strategy.

  9. Submitted by Pat Brady on 09/08/2014 - 08:03 am.

    Is Tom Emmer the male version of M. Bachmann?

    Mr. Emmer is part of the extreme religious right, Tea Party wing of the GOP.

  10. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 09/08/2014 - 08:17 am.

    In spite of the map…

    the DFL would be unwise to concede the 6th to the GOP without a fight. They have done that before, and missed a couple of real chances to unseat Bachmann.

    No open seat should EVER be given away to the other party without a good fight. Opportunities like this don’t come along that often.

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