Democrats Pin House Hopes on Rahm Emanuel
Rahm Emanuel entered the room with a rÃƒ©sumÃƒ© as outsized as any second-term congressman: top aide to President Clinton, millionaire investment banker, professional ballet dancer, volunteer at an Israeli supply base during the Gulf War. He’s also the guy who, while working at the Democratic Party’s congressional recruitment committee in the 1980s, once famously sent a rotting fish to a pollster who he felt had given him bad numbers. Mr. Emanuel now represents Chicago’s north side – the old district of another larger-than-life Chicago pol, Dan Rostenkowski – in the US House of Representatives, and has risen quickly in party ranks. And Congressman Emanuel has mellowed since his suffer-no-fools-gladly days in the White House, say friends and political observers.
But, as the newly minted chair of that same Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee he once worked for – known around town just as the DCCC – and, increasingly, a leading voice for the party on policy, the edgy and brash Emanuel is still what the party is banking on as it seeks to retake control of the House.
The Democrats face a steep climb to retake the majority, with a current balance of 232 Republicans, 202 Democrats, one independent, and few seats that appear as of now to be in play. But no one can tell the Democrats to stop dreaming or the Republicans to stop worrying. In 1994, the Democrats went into the November election with a 256-178 majority and came out in the minority – and have been there ever since. “I don’t think anyone can tell you, 18 to 19 months out, what is going to happen,” says Emanuel. But, he continues, “I am telling you what I told the caucus the day that they asked me to do this: ‘Minimize our defensive posture, maximize our offensive posture.’ “
As impressive as Emanuel is, it’s highly unlikely that the Democrats will retake the House anytime soon. 1994 was the perfect storm: several Democratic scandals, a well-tested national platform for the GOP, and a huge number of open seats created by a change in the law that would have subsequently prevented Members from retaining their campaign warchests upon retirement. The tightly gerrymandered districts virtually assure the GOP control through 2012 and all demographic trends point toward Red State gains in the next reapportionment.