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The Democrats' engineers of success

Excuse the fathers of the Democrats' improbable success - Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Rahm Emanuel - if they do a bit of chest-thumping, high-fiving and strutting.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., right, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., chairman of the House Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, had plenty of reason to celebrate with fellow Democrats at on election-night rally.J. Scott Applewhite / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Excuse the fathers of the Democrats' improbable success - Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Rahm Emanuel - if they do a bit of chest-thumping, high-fiving and strutting.

After all, Democrats began 2006 as underdogs in a one-party town and will end it as victors, capturing control of the House and Senate for the first time in 12 years as not a single Democratic incumbent lost a re-election bid.

A wave of anti-war, anti-Republican sentiment propelled Democrats to upend the status quo and seize GOP-held seats across the board. But a good chunk of the credit has gone to the captains of the campaign effort: Schumer and Emanuel, two fast-talking, hard-charging politicians.

Credit and blame
"I'd say it was 65 percent Republican mistakes and 35 percent Democratic successes," Schumer said in an interview Thursday. "First and most important, George Bush did not change direction when people were demanding it. We also recruited great candidates ... and we got the resources."

A "political genius," Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said of Schumer, the Brooklyn-born, two-term New York senator who oversaw the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The party faced long odds to gain six Republican seats, but sealed it Thursday when Virginia Sen. George Allen conceded to Jim Webb - a Schumer choice.

Reid has already asked Schumer to stay on as chairman, and the senator said: "I'm thinking about it very seriously."

In the future
In 2008, Senate Republicans will defend 21 seats and Democrats 12, better Democratic math than this year's 15 and 17 plus one Democratic-leaning independent.

A leadership post is in the works as just reward for Emanuel, the two-term Illinois congressman who oversaw the party's House operation. Democrats needed to gain 15 seats, they got plenty more.

Widely thought to be a potential challenger to Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina for the No. 3 position of Majority Whip, Emanuel announced plans Thursday to run instead for the No. 4 job of Democratic caucus chairman.

Asked the morning after what he was running for, Emanuel said, "You know, you're like my mother. She called last night. Before she could say congratulations, she said, 'What are you gonna do next?'"

Successful gameplan
The two chairmen recruited conservatives who won in Republican-leaning districts and states, raised millions more than when the political parties had it easier with soft money and carefully picked their targets in the campaign's closing days with a last-minute infusion of cash.

"On the Democratic side, the national Democratic committees raised as much money in all hard money as they did the entire 20002 cycle when they could raise hard and soft money, which is a remarkable achievement," said Michael Toner, chairman of the Federal Election Commission.

Schumer raised $104 million as of Oct. 18, tapping current senators for hefty donations and relying on his long-established ties to the deep-pocketed leaders of Wall Street. This election year, the New York City region alone gave Schumer's DSCC $23 million.

"We did much better in the business community than the Democrats have done in past years," Schumer said.

Emanuel's House campaign committee raised $108 million by Oct. 18, the last public filing period. The single biggest source of cash was other members of Congress, whose candidate committees contributed $15.8 million.

Comparing campaign chairman
The two Democrats' paths to Washington are as different as their backgrounds.

Emanuel, 46, is a nine-and-a-half-fingered, ballet-dancing lawmaker who earned the nickname "Rahmbo" as political adviser to President Clinton. He's a triathlete who's quick to anger and not afraid to use profanity to make his point.

"Once he establishes a goal he'll never stop until it's done. Sometimes he will be abrasive," said fellow Illinois Democratic Rep. Jerry Costello.

Emanuel grew up in the ritzy Chicago suburb of Wilmette, the son of an Israeli doctor who moved to the United States. He and his brother, Ari, a Hollywood agent, have been inspirations for television characters. Ari Gold, a Type-A superagent on HBO's show "Entourage," is based on Emanuel's brother. "The West Wing" character of aide Josh Lyman was based on the congressman.

As a teenager, Emanuel was more interested in the arts than politics. He studied dance and won a scholarship to train with the Joffrey Ballet but ended up attending Sarah Lawrence College and then got a master's degree from Northwestern University.

His start in politics came after college, when he worked for Paul Simon's 1984 Senate campaign and Richard Daley's run for Chicago mayor in 1989. Then he went to work for a little-known Arkansas governor.

The story behind his half finger: At age 17, Emanuel cut it, developed an infection and spent weeks in the hospital, dangerously ill, before doctors got the problem under control. In the process, they amputated most of the finger.

Schumer, 56, a Harvard-educated lawyer, rose through the ranks in the New York state Assembly and the House before knocking off a Republican heavyweight in 1998 - Republican Sen. Alfonse D'Amato.

He has lived by a few rules this year: Talk to real people all over the state, even traditionally conservative places where Democrats usually get little support; do plenty of small-scale, localized events in sparsely populated areas where voters will at least remember you showed up.

"I have a 24-hour rule," he said. "If the opponent hits you, make sure you answer that charge in 24 hours."

Back in December, Republicans jeered Schumer's suggestion that Democrats could seize the majority by running competitively in states like Tennessee and Montana, saying he was a New York liberal hopelessly out of touch with middle America.

Democrats won Montana and knocked off Republicans in Virginia, Missouri, Ohio, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania.