BY LYNN SWEET Sun-Times Columnist
While other Democrats were predicting they would retake the House, Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) was cautious and more than a bit superstitious.
The House Democratic political boss would only say of the ripening potential for Democrats that he would "rather be us than them."
He was right. Was he ever.
For the last 22 months, Emanuel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has with a singular focus ran a tough-love political organization that Tuesday reclaimed a Democratic majority they lost in 1994. That sets the stage for the first female speaker of the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who tapped Emanuel for the job.
Emanuel is the architect -- the master political strategist -- behind the Democratic win. Hands on -- Emanuel came up through the ranks as a political operative -- his stamp was on every aspect of the operation as an uber campaign manager, from candidate recruitment, to relentless fund-raising to realizing very early on the political implications of a variety of simmering GOP ethics scandals and the Iraq war.
Emanuel also got lucky. The Democrats picked up the seat vacated by former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) after his sexually suggestive e-mails to pages surfaced.
Emanuel, who will be 47 on Nov. 29, voted from his North Side precinct Tuesday morning, his own re-election to a third term virtually preordained in his safe Democratic 5th District. Then he flew to Washington with his wife, Amy, two daughters and son.
Pelosi and Emanuel hosted a lunch for their best donors and waited to see what the night would yield. They watched election returns from a "war room" in the DCCC headquarters a few blocks from the Capitol.
'No more buttons to push'
Emanuel was wound tight, said one of his chief advisers, David Axelrod, the Chicago-based media consultant who was in Washington with him.
Before it was clear the Democrats made the comeback Tuesday night, Emanuel was "like a cat on a hot tin roof."
"The problem with Rahm is there is nothing he can do now. This is the worst possible time. There are no more buttons to push,'' Axelrod said.
Democrats needed to gain 15 seats for the majority, and the total yield as of this writing may be somewhere between 25 and 31.
Emanuel and Pelosi realized they clinched around 10:30 p.m., Eastern time, and they headed over to a packed rally at a Capitol Hill hotel with the other congressional Democratic leaders.
The leadoff speaker, Emanuel said, "It's time for the endless campaign to stop and the hard work of governing to begin. And this is our pledge to you. You have given us a chance to turn this country around, and we'll give you the government that no longer lets you down.
"We will do it by reaching across the partisan divide. Setting aside the bitterness of the last few years and leading America in a new direction."
It's not clear what, if any, leadership role Emanuel will seek.
The Democrats are going to put this leadership team together in the next 10 days. There is no obvious spot for Emanuel, but Pelosi can make one.
Said Axelrod, "He established himself as a force in this Congress, and I am certain that Speaker Pelosi will want to find a way to harness this talent."