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If (when) Emmer wins re-election in November, he may face an even tougher race

There’s an expectation that Emmer, who has headed the House GOP’s campaign arm since 2018, will be rewarded with some kind of promotion if the Republicans seize the House in the fall.

Rep. Tom Emmer shown conducting a telephone town hall in April 2021.
Rep. Tom Emmer shown conducting a telephone town hall in April 2021.

WASHINGTON – If Republicans win the U.S. House and Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer, R-6th, wins re-election in November – both very real possibilities – he will face a much tougher election weeks later.

That second election involves a vote by his GOP colleagues that will determine whether Emmer, now the head of the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC), fulfills his ambition to rise up the House leadership ranks and become the new majority whip.

The whip is responsible for counting heads and rounding up party members for votes. As the No. 3 person in the Republican leadership, Emmer would occasionally stand in for the majority leader and be involved in day-to-day decisions.

The leadership elections will take place during freshman orientation, a post-election event that’s held so members from both parties can learn the ropes, participate in a lottery for their Capitol Hill offices and begin hiring staff. Although those new members won’t be sworn in until January, they can cast votes for the leaders of their parties during their orientation, which is expected to take place before Thanksgiving.

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Emmer, 61, who has represented a district that includes St. Cloud and many Twin Cities suburbs, declined to be interviewed for this story. Until recently, he’s been inscrutable about his plans. But, with potential rivals for the whip job – including Reps. Elise Stefanik, R-New York, and Jim Banks, R-Indiana – canvassing colleagues for support, Emmer has finally indicated he plans to seek the leadership job.

“Chairman Emmer is focused on winning in November,” NRCC Communications Director Michael McAdams said in a statement.  “He’s asked his colleagues for the opportunity to make an argument for majority whip once Republicans retake the House and fire Nancy Pelosi.”

If Pelosi is indeed “fired” as Speaker of the House, Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-California, plans to go for her old job. The current House GOP whip, Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, also wants a to climb the leadership ladder, to House Majority Leader, leaving that whip position vacant.

There’s an expectation that Emmer, who has headed the House GOP’s campaign arm since 2018, will be rewarded with some kind of promotion if the Republicans seize the House in the fall – something most political analysts say is likely.

“If the Republicans do have a good night in the House, winning a decent-sized majority, Emmer will come out of the election looking good, which might be helpful in his leadership bid,” said Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

The NRCC has targeted 75 Democratic seats in November’s midterm elections. Even if Republicans flip fewer than half of those seats, they will have the largest majority in the House in nearly a century. And to win the narrowly divided chamber, Republicans need only a net gain of five seats.

Earlier this month Emmer spoke about his recruitment of GOP candidates during a University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs event.

The congressman said he’s bucked the trend of recruiting wealthy candidates who self-fund their campaigns because “they are tough to manage,” preferring instead to ask Republicans in state congressional delegations who he should recruit to challenge Democrats.

That, Emmer said, has resulted in a very diverse field of Republican candidates, with “a record number” of women and people of color.

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“It’s something I’m extremely proud of,” Emmer said.

As NRCC chief, Emmer has raised and spent millions of dollars to help GOP House candidates, both challengers targeting vulnerable Democrats and Republican incumbents in tough races.

He’s also donated more than $500,000 out of his leadership political action committee, Electing Majority-Making Effective Republicans (EMMER) to the campaigns of GOP candidates, as well as making dozens of contributions to Republican candidates from his personal campaign account.

University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs said Republicans are “almost certainly” going to win the House majority and Emmer should get “outsized credit” for that. Jacobs also said winning candidates Emmer has helped should show him loyalty when they vote for their party’s leaders.

“Leadership elections are hard to handicap,” he said. “But my own personal view is that he will win the leadership contest.”

Emmer’s rivals  

An attorney and former member of the state Legislature, Emmer has represented Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District since 2015.

An ardent conservative, he’s from a slightly different mold than his rivals for the whip position.

Stefanik, elected in 2014 as a moderate, staunchly defended former President Trump during his first impeachment proceedings in 2019, prompting Trump to declare that “a star is born.”

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Stefanik has fervently supported Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. More recently, she has excoriated the FBI for serving a warrant on Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida resort, an act she called an “unprecedented threat to democracy” in a fundraising appeal for the former president’s legal defense fund.

In May, Stefanik became the House GOP conference chair, after Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, was ousted from the job for voting in favor of Trump’s second impeachment. Stefanik argued she merited the job because a woman should belong in the top ranks of the GOP House leadership, an argument she’s expected to repeat as she campaigns for whip.

Elected in 2016, Banks is the leader of the influential Republican Study Committee, a caucus of conservatives in the House that counts Emmer, as well as fellow Minnesotans Reps. Michelle Fischbach, R-7th, and Pete Stauber, R-8th, among its members.

Like Stefanik, Banks is an outspoken defender of Trump. And like Stefanik, on Jan. 6 Banks voted against certifying the results of the 2020 election.

Meanwhile, Emmer voted to certify that election and, while he’s been supportive of Trump, he’s largely stayed away from controversies involving the former president, instead preferring to fundraise and hone GOP messaging that blames Democrats for crime and inflation.

Jacobs said that during his political career, Emmer has “gone from a disrupter” and “renegade” to “someone who can hold together the GOP caucus.”

Emmer has been able to work with Democrats on legislation, including Attorney General Keith Ellison when the state’s top attorney was in Congress. Emmer also promotes bipartisan bills on mental health and recently crossed party lines to vote for a Democratic bill that would protect same-sex marriage.

As far as the impact on Minnesota if Emmer continues to climb the GOP ranks?

“It’s good for Minnesota because it gives us a voice,” Jacobs said. “We would have more influence, and that’s a good thing.”