Congressional Republicans are hoping to win back the House this November, and the lawmaker leading the GOP campaign operation says that districts with rural and agricultural areas will be critical to winning the necessary 17 seats.
In an interview with Agri-Pulse, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, said there are 54 focus districts.
“Why have we done those 54? The top 30, Donald Trump won in 2016. The next 20, Hillary Clinton won in 2016 by a very slim margin,” Emmer said.
Among those top 30 districts, Trump won 13 by six points or more, and many of them he won by double digits.
Emmer says a special election last month in the Los Angeles suburbs in California's 25th District, which Republican Mike Garcia won, shows there are opportunities for Republicans beyond those 30 Trump districts. Clinton carried the district by more than 6 points in 2016 after Republican Mitt Romney won it in 2012.
“The last time Republicans flipped any seat in California - last time a Republican beat a Democrat in a Democrat seat - was 22 years ago,” Emmer said.
He said there are 35 Democrats in seats that are better for Republican candidates than the one the GOP won in California.
One example is Oklahoma’s Fifth District, currently represented by first-term Democrat Kendra Horn.
“It includes Oklahoma City, a piece of it. It has become more urban but also includes a great deal of exurban and rural ag. Districts like that, you will find them all over the place," he said.
Emmer agreed that Congress is becoming more polarized politically.
“Ag country has become more red, the cities, the high population density cities have become more blue and the suburbs have kind of been purple,” Emmer said.
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Emmer said as the districts have been redrawn every ten years a vast majority of them have become more red or more blue. “We now have probably just less than 100 of the 435 that are true swing districts,” he said.
He argues that the polarization goes back to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment.
“If you look back, Republicans and Democrats used to pass 12 appropriations bills, out of the House, to the Senate, out of the Senate then they’d have them to the president’s desk on or before midnight September 30, the end of the fiscal year. That happened regularly.”
He noted that has not happened since the late 1990s.
But he is bullish on the future. “I think out of major pain, out of major disruption comes good,” Emmer said. He doesn't think the country will continue to grow apart politically, primarily because of the internal optimism of Americans.
“We’ve hit bottom ... the only place to go from here is up.”