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Sweet column: Job was his -- and Emanuel delivered


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."

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Here is an alternative view, with which I find myself far more in agreement:

Democrats pushing the conservative line, or giving credit to Rahm Emanuel, don't get it.  Rahm Emanuel did everything he could to lose the House.  His recruiting and use of money was strategically unwise, and he was bailed out by a national trend that brought us the Senate, the Governorships, state legislative chambers, and state constitutional officers all over the country....

(click the link to read the whole thing)

I should add that the above linked article's criticisms of Dan Seals are off base (and Rahm had almost nothing to do with the race in the 10th until he finally pitched in a little at the end), but observations like these are spot on:

Democrats have won back the House. Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), nearly tripped over himself on the way to the microphone to claim the credit. In fact, while the tidal wave in the House looks like a bit of strategic genius by Emanuel--and pundits are starting to call it that way (Howard Fineman on MSNBC noted that the Democrats even picked up a seat in Kentucky, where the 3rd District candidate was John Yarmuth--"Emanuel's fourth choice!" Fineman exclaimed, as if in awe of the power possessed by Emanuel's mere table scraps)--in race after race, it actually represents the apotheosis of forces Emanuel has doubted all long: the netroots.

In two competitive House races in the Bluegrass State, Emanuel's first choices lost by 9 and 12 points. In the 2nd District it was Colonel Mike Weaver, the cofounder of Commonwealth Democrats, a group of conservative Democratic state legislators. In the 4th, it was Ken Lucas, a former congressman whom Robert Novak recently called "moderate conservative" in a column Emanuel's "recruiting coup" in coaxing Lucas out of retirement. Both were the kind of candidates Emanuel has favored in his famous nationwide recruiting drive. Yarmuth, meanwhile, was founder of the state's first alternative newspaper, said things on the campaign trail things like "the No Child Left Behind Act ... is a plan deliberately constructed to create 'failing' schools," and called for "a universal health care system in which every citizen has health insurance independent of his or her employment."

It was a pattern repeated across the country. New Hampshire's 1st District delivered Carol Shea-Porter, a former social worker who got kicked out of a 2005 Presidential appearance for wearing a T-shirt that said turn your back on bush. That might have been her fifteen minutes of fame--if, last night, she hadn't defeated two-term Republican incumbent Jeb Bradley. For the chance to face him, however, she had to win a primary against the DCCC's preferred candidate, Jim Craig--whom Rahm Emanuel liked to much he had the unusual move of contributing $5000 to his primary campaign. Shea-Porter dominated Craig by 20 points--and then was shut out by the DCCC for general election funds.

Why don't you also mention the enormous amount of money he wasted on Tammy Duckworth and the damage he did to the local party in bringing her here. Also, the absolute lack of support she gave t the down ticket candidates. Or any number of other races where people won despite his lack of help.

It is interesting to note Christine Cegelis got more votes in her loss to Hyde in 04 than Duckworth got last night. So the votes are there for the Democrats to win in IL-06 they just did not come out for her. I guess she was not compelling enough to bring them out in a midterm year.

I think Dean deserves more credit than Rahm and Dean’s changes will last longer and won’t have to be defended year after year. Organizations grow when encourages and these state level groups will bear fruit long after the targeted races are over.

Arianna gets it right too:

The GOP lost for three reasons: Iraq, Iraq, and Iraq. Period. End of discussion.
Election Day 2006 was an unambiguous repudiation of the Bush administration's failed and tragic policy in Iraq. In race after race after race, Democrats who were unequivocal on Iraq prevailed. Democrats who ran campaigns by the book, listened to their consultants, and veered to Al From's
[and Rahm Emanuel's] "vital center", lost.


I agree with Jim and delver that, while Rahm might be given credit for opening his little golden phone book and delivering the money that is half of the DCCC's job, he might not have been the 'strategy stud' that his reputation says he is. A closer examination of the close races he won and lost (Seals, Duckworth getting less votes and a not very improved pct., Marcinkowski and Skinner in MI not getting funds or support until it was too late) might give a better picture of his tenure.

I know that as a Cub fan, I'd like to believe that I had something to do with the W/L record of the team,
but that only in my fever dreams do I believe that anyone will actually give me credit for cheering loud enough to make them win.

Way too much credit being given to Rahm here, I believe.

IF it weren't for DNC Chairman Howard Dean and his 50-state strategy, we wouldn't be where we are today. Dean's strategy, which was heavily criticized by party establishment figures including Rahm Emanuel, seeked to ask for peoples votes all across the country. This was in sharp contrast to the previous Democratic strategy of concentrating on so-called "battleground" states while ignoring places that were perceived as republican strongholds.

Dean's 50-state strategy, which he himself had originally said wouldn't bear fruit until 2008, has been vindicated.

Dean, the man that the establishment and the media love to hate, has been vindicated.

As Dean himself said, asking someone for their vote is a sign of respect. Sometimes, just showing someone that respect will motivate that person to go and vote for your candidate.

To give all of the credit for this excellent election result to Rahm simply isn't fair, based on the facts.

The main reason democrats did so well is that most of their candidates ran as conservative, Zell Miller democrats. All night long on Tuesday I heard that this democratic candidate and that democratic candidate is against raising taxes, some were pro life and pro guns etc. It sounds to me the dems know that liberalism is dead, so they ran as conservatives. This election was a defeat of liberalism and a victory for conservatism, which is good. Because it doesn't matter to me if a congressman or Senator has a D or an R after their name, as long as they legislate conservatively.

Jerry (above) has parrotted an easily disproven right-wing talking point about last nights elections. That being that Dems only one because they are conservatives now and America is a conservative nation.

Jerry, if what you say is true, then I'm sure you can name ONE single Democrat who was more conservative than the republican they beat.

What Jerry is giving us is a last-gasp right-wing talking point, which is nothing more than a desperate attempt to save face by a party that has pretty much been rendered irrelevant.

America has spoken, and it has voted in a government that is DECIDEDLY to the left of the Republican party.

Americans overwhelmigly support a womans right to choose, workers' rights, gun control, education and stem cell research.

Sounds like a pretty progressive nation to me.

Sure, there are some conservative Dems, but they are mostly in the South, which is understandable. Keep in mind though, that the southern Dems have virtually no say in the party's agenda.

Take a look at who will be chairing virtually all the committees in the House and Senate. Nothing but liberals/progressives, up and down the board.

You're welcome.

To John,I didn't say the dems who won were more conservative than their republican opponents, I said that they were conservative democrats, not far left pinko liberals like you sound like you are. And you lie when you say Americans overwhelmingly support those issues that you mentioned. The majority of Americans are for lower taxes, for the right to bear arms, against affirmative action(the state of Michigan voted to abolish affirmative action). The only reasons the demons won is because of the messed up Iraq war, and because the Republicans are not conservative enough. I laugh when I hear left wingers like you cry about Bush being too conservative. Bush is not that conservative, he is only a half conservative. BTW, with a polish last name like yours what the hell are you doing being a liberal? And, what does the term "progressive" actually mean?

One more thing, Jerry.

Jon Tester, who won big in conservative Montana, would probably fit into that "conservative" Democrat mold you are talking about.

So let's take a look at Jon Tester's "Conservative" agenda, shall we?

* Supporting renewable and alternative energy sources
* Raising automobile mileage
* Pro-choice
* Protecting public lands
* Country of origin labels for food imports
* Affordable health care
* Enforcing immigration laws for immigrants and employers
* gun rights
* A plan to end the war in Iraq
* Increasing the minimum wage
* Repealing the Patriot Act
* Changing Medicare D to allow price negotiation with drug companies
* No to social security privatization
* Pro stem cell research
* Middle class tax relief

But hey, you and the right wing pundits can keep ringing that "Conservative Democrats" bell all you want. Keep on saying it, and southern conservatives in the south will start to understand that there is a home in the Democratic party for conservatives, and the GOP base will be eroded in the South.


And the Dems won't even have to spend a dime to get that "big tent" message out!

The long knives are already coming out for Dean:

And Jerry's talking point is a load of bull: The Dems won in some Red states with "socially conservative" candidates, but when you look at the winning Democratic candidates in states like NY, CA, CT, and even KY, they were unabashed progressives.

I agree with some of Tester's positions, disagree with some. Guns rights, enforcing immigration laws, tax relief, although Bush has already given middle class tax relief, but if this guy wants more middle class tax relief then great. There are also a few other issues I agree with him on, but repealing the Patriot Act is wrong and dangerous and that would be a good way for him to get booted out of office in 6 years. So this guy Tester is not a far left wing liberal, which is good. I have no problem with moderates, it's just the far left wingers I find repugnant. Also, Tester's opponent was embroiled in scandal and that helped him win. As for the democrats being a "big tent" party, we will have to wait and see. Because over the last ten years the republicans have been the big tent party that has room for moderates like Giuliani, McCain, Schwarzenager(spelling?), while still embracing more conservatives like Trent Lott, George Allen, Tom Delay, Orrin Hatch. The democrats have recently been a far left party with no room for moderates. Maybe getting their brains beat in over the last ten years in Cogressional races, and maybe with republicans having the white house 28 years to 12 from 1968-2008 has taught them to be less intolerant of other views. But I would calm down on the "democrtas are taking over" rhetoric just yet. You guys finally won some elections. It is typical for a sitting President's party to lose seats in a mid term election. I bet Lynn Sweet could verify that.

Yeah Jim, I read about Carville's idiotic comments. Dean has withstood enemies in his own party before (not to mention the mainstream media and the right), and he will certainly withstand anything that Mr. Mary Matalin throws his way. He's one of the few politians that I actually believe to be sincere, and that includes most Dems as well as Republicans.


Wow, Jerry, care to list any other excuses for the republicans humiliating defeat?

When you say things like "left pinko liberals" and "The only reasons the demons won..." than you certainly aren't going to get any kind of serious rebuttal from me.

It's baseless, hateful rhetoric like that that cost your party America's respect, not to mention both chambers of Congress...

I hope Pelosi and the other dems in charge show their "progressive" side. Because if they do then the republicans will keep the white house and gain seats in two years.

I only give what I get.

Delievered the GOP beat itself, scandals, Mike Dewine trying to be Durbins buddy.10 districts alone were handed to Dems on scandal. When they go ahead in 2008 we will see how good Rham is when they dont have a much beaten up G W Bush around. I did see Al quida pretty happy the Dems won.

It's baseless, hateful rhetoric like that that cost your party America's respect, not to mention both chambers of Congress...
John what glue are you sniffing we all lose when the Dems run everything they are getting endicted statewide and county/city wide. We all lose when we live in a one party county thats raising taxes after the election. We all lose when Al Quida is happy with election results. We all lose when race is injected in Maryland, Virginia and Atlanta. We all lose when people claiming to bring us together ,lie (see i.e. Obama/Rezko). We all lose, and Dems are as bad as the GOP. Period. Obamzko nice sounding isnt it?

Joen do they give you computer time in the state institution your in? The conservative Dems won the house and senate, Webb and Tester won the Senate, what dont you see you bozo they lose atleast 10 seats in 2008. Scandal won the election, scandal. They deserved to lose because they tried being democrats.

Emannuel is average, he did nothing, he ran conservative dems and moderates to win. In 1994 Newt ran conservatives and picked up 56 seats. Rham was the equivalent of winning by 3 points when you were favored by 21 points.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on November 8, 2006 5:27 PM.

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