WASHINGTON – At a time many Republicans are openly distancing themselves from their presidential candidate — dodging fundraisers, skipping the Republican National Convention and eschewing questions on who they’ll vote for — one Minnesota congressman stands out.
Minnesota U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer is all in for Donald Trump.
“I’m willing to take the chance that Donald Trump will offer us an opportunity to get us moving again,” Emmer said.
The first-term congressman is among few members of Congress to openly embrace Trump, highlighting the anxiety the nominee is causing congressional Republicans defending majorities in the House and the Senate. Republicans are grappling with how to handle a nominee whose provocative statements about Muslims, immigrants, blacks and women have unnerved many GOP officeholders.
With Trump’s poll numbers sagging nationally, many congressional Republicans worry that Trump is dragging down their re-election efforts. U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, who represents the battleground area of the Twin Cities’ western suburbs, has taken the unusual step of condemning some of Trump’s statements, but so far is not saying whether he will vote for him.
A few Republicans are challenging the GOP nominee outright. GOP Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado is running ads vowing to “take on” Trump. Some influential Minnesota Republicans, too, are publicly speaking out against Trump. Former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman and former Rep. Vin Weber said they do not support the nominee.
Outgoing U.S. Rep. John Kline said through a spokesman that he will support the GOP nominee, “but obviously doesn’t agree with everything Mr. Trump or any candidate” says along the campaign trail.
“Where you stand on Trump depends a lot on your vulnerability,” said David Wasserman, an expert on House races at the Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan publication based in Washington, D.C. “Most safe Republican seats, the members are endorsing Trump. It’s a much different story in marginal districts.”
Emmer represents a congressional district where voters have a long GOP streak, but was also a base of support for independent Gov. Jesse Ventura, another freewheeling candidate who challenged the political establishment.
Emmer says he’s “incredibly comfortable” with his decision. “I don’t agree with everything Donald Trump says,” Emmer said. “His words are his, mine are mine.”
Trump has a significant base of support in the state. A Star Tribune Minnesota Poll in May showed Democrat Hillary Clinton leading Trump 48 percent to 35 percent. Trump’s strongest support came in exurban communities, like the areas that make up Emmer’s Sixth Congressional District.
Emmer has worked to craft a brand that is markedly different from that of his predecessor, former U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, who also is a Trump supporter and adviser as well. He is co-chairing the Somalia caucus with Minneapolis Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison and is the lead House Republican working to lift the Cuban trade embargo. He has even garnered some recent support from a couple of local trade unions.
Emmer’s district is the most conservative in the state and among the least diverse in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. There is a sizable working-class white population — people who have been hit hard by the shifting economy and the expansion of trade. Roughly 30,000 people in the district belong to a union — about half of them in the construction trades.
In the March precinct caucuses, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz handily beat the statewide favorite pick, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, in Emmer’s district. Trump placed third both statewide and in the district.
Emmer is now taking a political bet that voters in the district will warm to Trump, preferring him over Clinton.
“The candidate we have nominated represents a lot of frustration across this country and it’s frustration caused by the political elite in this country,” Emmer said.
Don Huizenga, a construction worker and Trump coordinator in Emmer’s district, counts himself among the “bar stool white Republicans” to whom the Republican candidate appeals.
“A lot of politicians have forgotten, and the media has forgotten, a large group of white working-class Americans that feel like they’ve been put to the side by both parties,” said Huizenga, who lives in Anoka. “We are always asked to come to the bar and pay the bill, but not participate.”
Emmer shrugs off any inconsistencies. This includes Trump’s early vows to cast out — not relax — trade agreements and a proposal to ban Muslims coming into the United States.
“I think what you’ve seen on the Republican side in the last few weeks is this isn’t about a religious test, this is about safety and security of all Americans,” Emmer said.
The North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters has endorsed Emmer because he is among the 50 or so House Republicans who have supported some fair wage legislation on Capitol Hill. Kyle Makarios, a union worker with the group, is not himself a Trump supporter, but says Emmer’s endorsement will not hurt him among voters at home.
“We have strong agreements with the congressman on core policy issues. He represents many thousand construction workers in the district,” Makarios said. “He’s receptive. He knows who he represents.”