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Obama's chief of staff pick has tough-guy rep

Rahm Emanuel combines political instincts, White House experience and a Chicago tough-guy attitude — traits that he's likely to need as President-elect Obama's new chief of staff.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Rep. Rahm Emanuel combines political instincts, White House experience and a Chicago tough-guy attitude — traits that he's likely to need as President-elect Barack Obama's new chief of staff.

His combative style as political director in the early days of the Clinton administration earned him the nickname "Rahmbo," after the flame-throwing movie character Rambo. He didn't always produce results, though. Emanuel lost that job but stayed on as a senior adviser and oversaw some of Clinton's top initiatives, including NAFTA and an assault-weapons ban.

After a lucrative stint in banking, Emanuel was elected to Congress in 2002 and quickly became a major power. He wound up overseeing the party's House election efforts in 2006 and won a majority for Democrats through tireless fundraising and candidate recruitment. Emanuel is now the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives as the Democratic Caucus Chair.

"He's a good tactician. He's a creative thinker. But I think what probably makes him most successful is that he has the will to follow his convictions," Rep. Danny Davis, another Illinois Democrat, said after the 2006 victory.

Emanuel grew up in the ritzy Chicago suburb of Wilmette, the son of an Israeli doctor who moved to the United States. His brother Ari is a Hollywood agent and the inspiration for Ari Gold, the hyper-ambitious superagent on the HBO series "Entourage." The congressman himself has been cited as an inspiration for presidential aide Josh Lyman on the drama series "The West Wing."

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 who wanted to be president.

Emanuel's fundraising skills are credited with helping keep Bill Clinton's campaign afloat during some rocky times, particularly sexual scandals.

In 1999, Emanuel left the White House to work in investment banking in Chicago, where Obama also lives. The firm Emanuel joined was soon sold and Emanuel made millions, giving him the financial security to get back into politics.

When he was tapped to oversee the 2006 congressional campaign effort, Emanuel led a record fundraising effort, bringing in far more money than four years earlier. The single biggest source of money was other members of Congress, which irritated some members who faced fierce pressure to contribute.

The additional money allowed House Democrats to expand the field, going into districts that hadn't been considered competitive before. That sometimes meant recruiting more conservative candidates, an Emanuel strategy that generated some complaints.

But his success in electing a Democratic majority soothed most hard feelings and confirmed Emanuel as a major force in the House — perhaps even a future speaker.

Emanuel and his wife have three children. He told Chicago's WLS-TV on Wednesday that he needed to consider the impact of the job on his family before accepting.

"I have a lot to weigh: the basis of public service, which I've given my life to, a career choice. And most importantly, what I want to do as a parent," he said. "And I know something about the White House. That, I assume, is one of the reasons that President-elect Obama would like me to serve. But I also know something about what it means to a family."