WASHINGTON – Tom Emmer's political future is on the line.

Running the House GOP's campaign arm, the Minnesota congressman has faulted Democrats for economic struggles, border issues and rising crime as he tries to deliver Republicans the House majority in next month's midterm elections.

If it pays off, the strategy could help Emmer win a coveted GOP leadership spot, making him the highest ranking Minnesotan in Congress. If it fails, Emmer could be blamed for House Republicans failing to take advantage of a favorable political environment for the party.

"[Democrats are] on the wrong side of all of these issues," Emmer said in an interview. "They don't have any answers for them, and that's why I'm very confident that voters are going to make a change in November."

Ensconced in a safe Republican district, Emmer has little to worry about politically in Minnesota. He's expected to easily win a fifth term. The more trying task is guiding his party back to the House majority as head of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

"The expectation of a lot of people is that Republicans will win the majority and the expectations game is also something you've got to be careful of," said former U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers, who led the House Republicans' campaign operation before Emmer took over after the GOP lost the majority in the 2018 midterms. "Now people sort of expect Tom to be able to win the majority."

Democratic control of the presidency and Congress would typically bode well for Republicans' odds at retaking the House given the tendency of some voters to blame the party in power for what ails them.

Political circumstances brought on by the GOP have complicated that outlook.


The fall of Roe v. Wade earlier this year sent Republicans scrambling to navigate a political climate where outrage about the end of federal abortion rights has invigorated Democrats' campaigns and threatened GOP dreams of a red wave in the midterms.

"Women are, I think, activating and not just women, but men as well," said Jeanne Hendricks, a semi-retired nurse anesthetist who lives outside the Sixth Congressional district in St. Louis Park and is running a Democratic campaign for the Emmer-held seat this fall. "That force is afoot."

Although Emmer acknowledges the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe energized the left's base, he said "it's caused Democrats to lose sight of the issues that are most important to the voters."

"Democrats are focused solely on one issue," Emmer said. "And that issue has nothing to do with the economic pain Americans are feeling."

Republicans remain deeply wedded to Donald Trump, with Emmer calling the former president "a great ally, especially when it comes to fundraising."

Those strong ties have continued despite the violent Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection that saw a mob of the former president's supporters storm the U.S. Capitol after Trump spread falsehoods that the 2020 presidential election was rigged and stolen.

Emmer denounced the violence and was not among the GOP lawmakers who voted to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in two swing states hours after the attack. His leadership PAC and the NRCC, however, have supported two candidates running for U.S. House seats in Ohio and Wisconsin contending with the specter of being outside the Capitol that day.

Both GOP Congressional hopefuls have denied wrongdoing and neither has been charged in the ongoing Jan. 6 investigation.

"January 6 was a terrible event," Emmer said. "I think people should be held accountable. But at the end of the day the issues that matter most to the voters right now, and it's going to matter [on Election Day], is the cost of living, supporting their families."

The NRCC has targeted more than 70 districts around the country in its drive to retake the House and reclaim lost ground.

"[They] seem to be running on chaos," said U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, a New Hampshire Democrat the GOP is looking to defeat. "They're very tied to the January 6 insurrection."

Republicans need to net five seats to take back the House, and a rollercoaster economy is helping boost Emmer's case in the nation's most competitive swing districts. Emmer said he's traveled to more than 30 states and held fundraising events for over 160 Congressional members and candidates this cycle.

"He's a bulldog," said U.S. Rep. Brad Finstad, a Republican who represents Minnesota's First District.

If the GOP does win back control, Emmer is prepared to try and become the next House majority whip. He's expected to compete with two other GOP lawmakers for the potential promotion.

The role means rounding up support to help the party pass its agenda during critical moments. But counting votes, persuading legislators and gathering support also comes with tremendous pressure and challenges. Democrats' narrow control of the House after the 2020 election led to intraparty tensions, and Republicans could face a similar dynamic.

Emmer is well prepared for the role because of his understanding of districts all around the country, said U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, a Pennsylvania Republican and ally gauging support for the Minnesota lawmaker.

"He's going to know what votes people can take, what votes they can't, and still come back in the next election cycle," Reschenthaler said.

Emmer also faces heightened scrutiny now that his ambition is out in the open.

Democrats' emphasis on abortion this election season has put pressure on Republicans, said Jon Schweppe, policy director at a social conservative organization called the American Principles Project. Yet "Emmer's strategy has been to run away as far as possible, as fast as possible," Schweppe said, which is a strategic mistake even given the left's vulnerabilities.

"For him to not be embracing, or not be willing, to lean into social issues at this time is plain old political malpractice," Schweppe said. "And I think that kind of shows that his judgment would not be good for the House majority whip position."

In an NRCC memo before the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court ended decades of federal abortion protections and altered the midterm dynamics, Emmer noted "a record number of Hispanic, Black, female, and veteran candidates running as Republicans this cycle."

"We've got probably the best class of candidates we've ever had," Emmer said in an interview.

And while his political hopes in a GOP-led House are apparent, Emmer has made clear he's focused on the Nov. 8 midterm elections.

"He's the first guy to say let's not get ahead of our skis," California Republican U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert said.

With Election Day just weeks away, whether the 61-year-old Emmer can provide Republicans with the successes they seek in this tumultuous midterm cycle could define his career to this point, testing the persona and approach he's become known for in Washington.

"I'm very proud of what we've done," Emmer said. "I think we're going to put an exclamation point on that [come Election Day]. Then we'll be right back to work."

Staff writer Rochelle Olson contributed to this report.