New House GOP campaign chairman lays out challenges for 2020

New House GOP campaign chairman lays out challenges for 2020
© Greg Nash

House Republicans are preparing for life in the minority after eight years in power, and the incoming chairman of their campaign arm is tasked with figuring out a way to regain the majority in 2020.

Rep. Tom EmmerThomas (Tom) Earl EmmerDCCC chair: Brooks retirement signals challenge for GOP women DCCC chair: Brooks retirement signals challenge for GOP women Indiana GOP Rep. Brooks says she won't seek reelection MORE (R-Minn.), who will be the new head of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) for the 2020 election cycle, has his work cut out for him following a stinging midterm election last month, when Democrats netted at least 40 seats, picking up wins in districts from eastern Virginia and southern California to deep-red Kansas and Texas that have long been GOP strongholds.

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That means Republicans would need to win back at least 18 seats in 2020 in order to retake control of the House. A handful of races from the 2018 midterm elections are still undecided.

Emmer, who is succeeding Rep. Steve StiversSteven (Steve) Ernst StiversLawmakers battle over HUD protections for homeless transgender people Lawmakers battle over HUD protections for homeless transgender people Lawmakers say major changes needed to expand access to affordable housing MORE (R-Ohio) as NRCC chairman, said in an interview with The Hill last week that Republicans will need to counter Democrats’ fundraising levels, improve the party's messaging strategy and put an added focus on attracting strong candidates.

“They recruited great candidates with great resumes with no voting records,” Emmer said. "Now I think they're going to run into some challenges because they also recruited people that really aren't good fits with their party on that side of the aisle.”

He emphasized that Republicans will need to recruit candidates who reflect their districts, saying that might involve recently defeated lawmakers running for their old seats. Emmer said he plans to start making phone calls to those lawmakers in January, and he listed about two dozen districts he feels are winnable or in play for 2020 after flipping from red to blue last month, including Illinois's 14th Congressional District, New York’s 11th and 22nd districts, Virginia's 2nd and Oklahoma's 5th.

“We're going to have to win those back in two years and I believe we will,” he said. “Then you've got a handful that we should win back with the right candidate, maybe the candidate that represented the district before — we don't know yet.”

Democrats were widely praised for fielding a diverse crop of candidates to run in last month's midterms, which contributed to a record number of women running for office.

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Rep.-elect Sharice DavidsSharice DavidsEx-congressman launching PAC to defend Dem seats in 2020 Ex-congressman launching PAC to defend Dem seats in 2020 Freshman Democrats call on McConnell to hold vote on election reform bill MORE (D), the first lesbian Native American to be elected to Congress, unseated GOP Rep. Kevin YoderKevin Wayne YoderK Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers Kansas Senate race splits wide open without Pompeo Mike Pompeo to speak at Missouri-Kansas Forum amid Senate bid speculation MORE (R-Kan.), and Rep.-elect Lucy McBathLucia (Lucy) Kay McBathEx-congressman launching PAC to defend Dem seats in 2020 Ex-congressman launching PAC to defend Dem seats in 2020 GOP amps up efforts to recruit women candidates MORE (D-Ga.), an African-American woman and gun-control activist, upset Rep. Karen HandelKaren Christine HandelFreshman House Dems surge past GOP in money race Freshman House Dems surge past GOP in money race McBath fundraising off 'get back in the kitchen' remarks MORE (R) to win the seat once held by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R).

Emmer said Republicans need to focus on bringing in diverse ideas as much as they need to bring in diverse candidates.

"We want more women, we want more people of color, yes. But you know what — we seek people that have a diversity of ideas," he said. "We don't care in the end about their gender, about their religion, about their race — that shouldn't be the defining factor of any human being. It should be what they bring to the table and share their ideas."

Republicans will also be focused on winning back suburban districts, where Democrats had overwhelming success last month. Political strategists say much of that Democratic success came from voters rebuking President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump defends Stephanopolous interview Trump defends Stephanopolous interview Buttigieg on offers of foreign intel: 'Just call the FBI' MORE and a losing GOP message on health care.

Emmer acknowledged that GOP shortcoming, saying Republicans could have done a better job messaging on health care and pre-existing conditions.

"We should have had a plan long ago as to how we were going to address this issue so that we were prepared for the midterm and we didn't — we never had a plan,” Emmer said.

Linking Republicans to Trump was a top campaign tactic for Democrats during the midterms, and it's one that could prove successful again in 2020.

Navigating personality fights in the Trump era has proven difficult for many GOP lawmakers, and Emmer said that listening to constituents and focusing on how they will address their district's needs will be key to winning back swing districts.

“We need to be talking to them,” he said. “We need to be defending their voice as opposed to somebody else's.”

“I mean there's all kinds of good news, but what were we doing to sell that good news?" he said. "Because it's not just about the resources, it's about the message and the communication of that message and who's doing it.”

He said he’d also like to see House lawmakers stay away from getting wrapped up in fights over personalities and place a focus on effectively messaging what the party brings to the table.

“It is not our job to defend personalities or individuals. It's our job to represent the people that hire us," he said. "We support policies, we support things that improve people's lives. That's what we should be defending. Don't get into the personality fight.”