Aug 24, 2022 - Politics & Policy

House GOP campaign chief dismisses NY-19 loss as “quirk”

 Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., walks down the House steps after a vote

Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) walks down the House steps after a vote. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

The chair of House Republicans’ campaign arm on Wednesday sought to tamp down fears over the party’s loss in New York’s 19th district in a memo in which he called Democrat Pat Ryan's win a “quirk.”

Why it matters: The memo, obtained by Axios, comes as Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) faces criticism from inside his party that he's too distracted about what his role may be if the GOP takes power in November — and not focused enough on ensuring the party wins back the majority.

Driving the news: Ryan defeated Republican Marc Molinaro, a popular county executive and former gubernatorial nominee, in an upset. Molinaro was seen as Republicans' ideal candidate, and many expected him to cruise to victory Tuesday night.

  • In the memo, titled "A Quick Note on What happened in NY-19," Emmer concedes that the election “didn’t deliver the result we hoped for” but defended the NRCC’s performance.
  • He cites the fact that the special election was held simultaneously with New York’s regular primary election, arguing that New York’s closed primary system discourages independent voters from turning out.
  • “As a historically blue state, the primary often serves as the general election for New York Democrats,” he wrote. “This means New York Democrats historically turn out at much higher rates for primaries.”
  • He also argued that a series of polls, including those conducted by the Democratic National Campaign Committee, showing Molinaro ahead failed to predict “the structural advantage Democrats had” by using samples that look more like the November electorate.

The big picture: Republicans came into 2022 with unwavering confidence that inflation and President Biden’s poor poll numbers would carry them to a large majority in the House.

What we're watching: Cook Political Report's Dave Wasserman tweeted that, based on recent elections, his group revised their outlook "to a 10-20 seat GOP gain, w/ Dems maintaining control not out of the question."

Between the lines: Several Republican members and strategists have complained that Emmer is distracted by a goal of becoming GOP whip after the election. He has already begun calling chairs of committees and other top House Republicans about his future race, GOP members told Axios.

The other side: Upon learning of the criticism, multiple House GOP members called Axios to defend Emmer.

  • "As the only member of leadership from the state of New York, I will tell you that specials are special," GOP conference chairwoman Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) told Axios. "Anyone who is criticizing leadership, whether it's Tom Emmer or anyone, for misplaying this race is criticizing from the sidelines."
  • "There's a lot of potential candidates for leadership and the whip, myself included, and we need to stay focused on what the NRCC is doing," she added.
  • "I've never worked alongside somebody more dedicated, more focused and more vigilant in our efforts to take back the House than Tom Emmer," Rep. Jodey Arrington, an NRCC deputy, told Axios. "In fact, I think he' s waited too long ... longer than any single person that has expressed an interest in leadership."

What they're saying: “It’s hard to credibly claim the NRCC was distracted when it was the single biggest spender in this race," NRCC spokesman Michael McAdams told Axios. “Chairman Emmer is completely focused on winning the majority and we’ll let the results in November speak for themselves."

  • “The first stage of grief is denial and that’s where the MAGA NRCC finds itself today — unable to accept that voters from ruby-red Kansas to upstate New York have overwhelmingly rejected their extreme attempt to rip away women’s freedoms," said DCCC spokesperson Chris Taylor.
  • "Republicans outspent Democrats 3-to-1 in the NY-19 special election race – they still lost. So essentially, the NRCC spent $1.3 million to perform worse than Trump in this district," Taylor said. "There are 222 House seats that are better than NY-19 by Biden 2020 performance."

Read the memo.

Go deeper