A Story Behind Rahm Emanuel's Win
In a 7 page feature article subtitled "A Portrait in Power",The Chicago Tribune examines Rahm Emanuel's role in the Democratic victory on election day.
During the past year, the Tribune had exclusive access to the strategy sessions, private fundraisers and other moments that shaped this victory. The newspaper agreed not to print any of the details until after the election. Now that the votes have been counted, the story of how Emanuel helped end an era of Republican rule can be told.
He did it, in large measure, by remaking the Democratic Party in his own image.
I don't think any one person was responsible for the Democrat's win. I'm sure Howard Dean, Charles Schumer and Rahm Emanuel, as Chairs of the Democratic National Committee, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Demcoratic Congressional Committee, as well as the netroots, all played a part.
The article is a major puff piece for Emanuel. As to his basic strategy:
Emanuel's strategy was to keep the opposition uncomfortable. If a Republican congressman took a vote that he hoped no one in his district would notice, such as supporting a Bush budget cut, Emanuel immediately issued a press release and sent it to the Republican's hometown newspaper. He then sent it to the lawmaker's office to, as he said, "[mess] with their heads."
He had the DCCC designate one Republican as the "rubber stamp of the week" and another as the "crony of the week," a gimmick that generated a surprising amount of local coverage. Republicans who received money from drugmakers or oil companies were ridiculed as lackeys of special interests.
On the 50 state strategy of Howard Dean:
On a late-spring day in 2006, Emanuel and Charles Schumer, the New Yorker in charge of winning the Senate for the Democrats, walked into the office of party Chairman Howard Dean.
Emanuel, once again, was ready for a fight.
For months, he and Schumer had been imploring the iconoclastic former presidential candidate to channel more money into congressional campaigns. Dean had been pushing a "50-state strategy" to build a Democratic operation in every part of the country.
The national party usually spent millions to help House candidates, but Dean was instead using the money to build this far-flung operation, to Emanuel's immense frustration. He felt Dean's strategy wasted money in unwinnable places.
According to Emanuel, the meeting devolved into a confrontation over resources. Emanuel said that the Republicans planned to heavily fund key races and that if Dean refused to do the same, it would amount to unilateral disarmament. Dean replied that he was fielding activists in every corner of every state.
Ridiculing the effort, Emanuel told Dean that he had seen no sign of it. "I know your field plan. It doesn't exist," he recalled saying. "I've gone around the country with these races. I've seen your people. There's no plan, Howard."
The tongue-lashing was another example of how Emanuel took a sledgehammer to intraparty niceties, making plenty of enemies along the way.
I have to disagree. As I've said before, I give major props to Howard Dean and the 50 state strategy.
The thorn in Emanuel's side, according to the article, was the Black Congressional Caucus.
He saw the Black Caucus as one more party faction, like conservative Democrats, that would rather complain than work. Asked about the number of black staffers at the DCCC—two African-Americans were on his senior staff of about 10 people—he waved his hand dismissively. "You know that every [DCCC] chairman has faced the same criticism?" he said. "OK. So I don't give a [expletive]," he added, literally spitting.
Then he began ranting about his conservative party colleagues. "They hate me too, because I'm arrogant and pushy with them. … Because they've never, ever WORKED! NOBODY! NONE OF 'EM!"
Here's one of Emanuel's picks:
All of Emanuel's scolding and cajoling would have meant nothing if he fielded weak candidates. After yet another devastating loss in 2004, he and other Democratic leaders quickly determined that the party needed a machismo implant. Emanuel looked for candidates with strong backgrounds, from sheriffs to soldiers, to counteract a Democratic image of softness.
This is why he badly wanted Heath Shuler, a former football star, to run for Congress as a Democrat in North Carolina. An evangelical Christian who opposes abortion, Shuler couldn't easily have his views caricatured by the GOP.
What were Emanuel's criteria for candidates?
His goal was to recruit 50 credible challengers. He had one criterion: people who could win. That may sound obvious, but it's not. Many Democrats did not believe in recruiting overly conservative candidates, no matter how promising. In the past, those like Shuler who opposed abortion were not welcome in the party.
"We don't have an ideological purity test," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, Emanuel's top lieutenant for recruiting. "If you believe in the basic gut principles of the Democratic Party—opportunity, fairness for all—we're not going to hold people to a litmus test."
How did Emanuel decide whom to fund?
Someone asked Emanuel how he planned to spend the money he was raising nationally. He would not distribute funds based on which candidates he liked, he said, nor on who were the most loyal Democrats.
"I'm cutthroat about this," he said. "I don't give a crap where I pick up seats. I plan on winning. There is no emotional attachment."
.... No matter how good candidates were, it meant little if they did not have cash to advertise and pay campaign workers....Emanuel and his staff judged a candidate almost entirely by how much money he or she brought in. If the candidate proved a good fundraiser, the DCCC would provide support, advertising and strategic advice. If not, the committee would shut him or her out.
Emanuel's demands were specific. Democratic challengers, for instance, had to raise $320,000 by March 31. At a staff meeting a year ago, talk turned to a Pennsylvania Democrat named Andy Warren who had raised a meager $38,662 in the previous three months. Emanuel ordered the staff to drop Warren and back his Democratic opponent. "Eliminate him," Emanuel said curtly.
After the election, Emanuel was, of course, gleeful, even jumping on a desk.
But at that moment, Emanuel would not, could not censor his glee, or restrain his distaste for the defeated Republicans.
For weeks they had been boasting that their program for turning out voters in the campaign's final 72 hours would swamp all his work. The voters had made those statements look ridiculous.
"I'll tell you this," Emanuel shouted out to his staff. "The Republicans may have the 72-hour program. But they have not seen the 22-month program!"Since my kids are gone, I can say it: They can go ---- themselves!"
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