Inside Republicans’ plans for a House takeover

“We’re gonna talk about all the stuff that matters to people,” said NRCC Chair Tom Emmer, citing school reopenings and job security. “We’ll follow through on a game plan. Hopefully, people will allow us to operate under the radar again because they won’t believe us. And we can surprise all of you again two years from now.”

And Emmer — now in his second stint leading the House GOP’s campaign arm — brushed aside Democrats’ new strategy to link the whole party to QAnon: “My colleague down the street might think that some fringe extremist theory is something that people care about,” he said in reference to Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. But fewer people believe in QAnon, Emmer said, than think the moon landing was faked.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and congressional Republicans are just five seats away from seizing back the House, following an unexpectedly successful election cycle, when they netted a dozen seats. The GOP also controls the redistricting process in several key states, giving them the ability to draw favorable new maps. And further fueling hopes of a Republican takeover, the president’s party has lost an average of 22 House seats in midterms going back over the past 40 years.

In an exclusive interview with POLITICO on Tuesday, Emmer charted out his road map for the 2022 midterms, which includes a list of 47 Democratic seats to target and a messaging blueprint: Tag Democrats as jobs-killing socialists and stress the GOP’s commitment to reopening schools and protecting the gas and energy sector.

But GOP leaders, while quietly confident that history is on their side, know there are still plenty of landmines ahead — especially with the potential for Jan. 6 to leave a lingering black mark on the party and the coronavirus still threatening to scramble the political terrain.

“In the end, I’m optimistic Republicans take the House and McCarthy becomes speaker,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), who is close with GOP leadership. “But there are a number of pitfalls along the way. And the playing field is far more complicated than it was in 2010.”

Among those potential X-factors: Some corporate donors have paused their PAC dollars to Republicans, while Democrats are promising to go after vulnerable lawmakers who voted to overturn the election. Emmer himself voted to certify the results and also was quick to condemn the violence, which could inoculate the campaign arm from some of those attacks and help with fundraising. By contrast, Senate Republicans’ campaign arm came under fire after Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), the National Republican Senatorial Committee chair, voted to reject the election results from Pennsylvania.

There’s also some precedent for voters favoring political stability in the wake of disaster. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, then-President George W. Bush and the GOP defied historical expectations to pick up House seats in the 2002 midterms.

“During the cycle, we might run into some unexpected things, much like you do in a game when somebody gets hurt,” said Emmer, a former hockey player and coach from Minnesota. “You might have to make minor adjustments.”

The NRCC outlined three buckets of pickup opportunities in its initial 2022 memo, which was shared first with POLITICO. The first group is composed of 29 Democrats who hold districts that featured tight races last cycle at the congressional and presidential level.

That includes Democrats from once-Republican suburban areas where the GOP has suffered in the Trump era, like Reps. Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-Ga.) and Andy Kim (D-N.J.); lawmakers in more GOP-friendly white, working-class regions, such as Reps. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), Ron Kind (D-Wis.) and Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.); and members in heavily Latino districts along the Texas-Mexico border where Trump saw a surprising surge, like Reps. Filemón Vela, Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez.

In the second tier of targets are eight Democrats who are less vulnerable but won by fewer than 10 points or underperformed Biden in their districts, including Reps. Colin Allred (D-Texas), Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) and Katie Porter (D-Calif.), who currently hold suburban seats that turned most sharply against Trump but retain some Republican DNA.

The final tier is made of 10 members whose seats could change significantly during the upcoming redistricting, including Reps. Deborah Ross (D-N.C.), John Garamendi (D-Calif.), Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) and Maloney in New York’s Hudson Valley.

If House Republicans can knock Democrats out of power — something that could happen through redistricting alone, based on the states where the GOP controls the process — that would mark a party’s shortest stint in the majority since the early 1950s.

“I would much rather be us than them,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said of his Democratic colleagues. “With history on our side, the opportunity has never been stronger to win back the House.”

But, he added: “We’re not going to slow down or take anything for granted.”

Other elements of the NRCC’s strategy have begun to take shape: Emmer will tap Rep. Carol Miller (R-W.Va.) to serve as his recruitment chair and build upon the party’s record-breaking efforts to elect more women to Congress — a key part of their 2020 success. Nearly all of the House GOP’s most recent gains came from women and minority candidates.

The GOP is particularly bullish on Texas, which is set to gain three seats during reapportionment, though the numbers won’t be announced until April. In 2020, Democrats set their sights on the rapidly diversifying suburbs, only to see their party lose ground in rural, Latino areas. Now, Republicans are targeting three once deep-blue seats in the Rio Grande Valley that Joe Biden nearly lost in 2020.

And in a sign of how much Republicans view the state as fertile ground, McCarthy — the House GOP’s most prolific fundraiser — already swung through the state twice in the last two weeks. He’s also made multiple stops in Florida, with Scalise headed there next week.

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