Video: The men behind the politics

By Tom Brokaw Correspondent
NBC News
updated 11/1/2006 7:33:08 PM ET 2006-11-02T00:33:08

Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee, on the right, and U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, on the left, are going "mano a mano" with five days left.

"American people want action, and a Democratic Congress is going to go give them action," says Emanuel.

"I think their greatest vulnerability, frankly, is on national security and higher taxes," says Mehlman.

Mehlman, a driven Harvard-educated lawyer who ran President Bush's 2004 re-election campaign, is famous for getting out the GOP vote.

Emanuel, a Chicago congressman, is the son of Israeli immigrants. A veteran of the Clinton White House, he's an aggressive fundraiser.

They agree the war in Iraq is the big issue.

"Iraq, as a key front on the war on terror, I believe that it actually is beneficial to Republicans," says Mehlman. "And the reason is, I think that most Americans who look are going to recognize we're in the middle of a very tough war, against a different kind of enemy."

"All the Republicans are saying is: When you've got yourself in a big hole, can we get a bigger shovel?" responds Emanuel.

Mehlman would rather make Nancy Pelosi the issue, the San Francisco liberal who would be speaker if the Democrats win.

"I think people are going to say: Which party is going to vote for leaders who will reflect my values and my community?" he says.

But Emanuel insists the Democrats have another agenda if they win.

"An increase in the minimum wage, which we haven't had in 10 years; direct negotiations to lower prescription drug prices," he says. "But we're not going to privatize Social Security."

And what do Mehlman and Emanuel have to do in the final five days?

"The two things that could make this just horrendous for the Republicans is if their folks don't show up, or if the independents show up in really big numbers," says Charlie Cook, an NBC News election analyst, on Mehlman's challenge.

And for Emanuel?

"They've got a huge wave going," says Cook, "and it's just keep his guys on board, keep them riding it and don't say anything to screw it up."

For their part, Mehlman and Emanuel now are like football coaches in the locker room before a big game.

"I think the people who are predicting our death, as they did in '04 and in '02 and in '00, are once again going to be wrong," says Mehlman.  

"I'm playing defense in about two races and playing offense in 46 races," says Emanuel. "I just like those numbers."

Mehlman and Emanuel are friendly to each other, but come Tuesday, only one will be a winner.

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