Rahm Emanuel provides inspiration to Republicans

By Perry Bacon Jr.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), one of the Republicans taking the lead in shaping the party's strategy for this fall's elections, has been calling GOP faithful all over the country for advice. But one of the more surprising sources he's mining for wisdom is White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

McCarthy isn't dialing up the West Wing for tips. But he admits to reading -- and rereading -- "The Thumpin', " a book that recounts how Emanuel, as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, helped the party prevail in the 2006 elections.

"I'm looking for ideas," said McCarthy, who credits Emanuel with finding the right candidates to run in key races four years ago. "It doesn't have to be from one party or the other."

A year after it seemed Republicans might be mired in the minority well into the future, some nonpartisan analysts are openly discussing the possibility that the GOP could recapture the House this fall. As lead recruiter for the National Republican Congressional Committee, the second-term McCarthy spent much of last year finding candidates to run under the GOP banner, specifically seeking challengers to veteran Democratic incumbents who might be complacent after years of winning easy reelection campaigns and vulnerable in the current anti-incumbent climate. Now party leaders have assigned McCarthy another key role: framing the House GOP's agenda for the fall. Republican strategists privately say they will take an 80 percent/20 percent approach to the campaign season, spending the majority of their time attacking congressional Democrats and President Obama. But McCarthy will help craft the message that Republicans will deliver to voters about what they will do if they actually win control of the House. He has dubbed the project the "Commitment to America," echoing the 1994 "Contract With America" that many Republican candidates used as a basis for their campaigns.

While not criticizing the original Contract, McCarthy says he wants the current document to emerge from the party's grass roots rather than be written by party leaders in Washington. In an effort likely to start this summer, Republicans will use the Internet and other forums to engage in a listening tour, allowing the public, particularly conservatives, to offer input on the GOP's agenda.

"I don't know what's going to be in it," McCarthy said. "The American people are going to engage the ideas and decide. You have to make sure you create something that is transparent and not Washington-based."

Republicans are seeking advice from a variety of figures on the project, including former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who helped write the original Contract, and Marco Rubio, the Senate candidate who engaged in an idea-generation project when he was Florida House speaker that resulted in the book "100 Innovative Ideas for Florida's Future."

McCarthy says the initiative illustrates that Republicans truly think they can win the 40 seats needed to put them in control of the House.

"I was one of the first people to come and say we have an opportunity to win," he said. "Some people attacked me for that, but their numbers have come closer to my numbers."

The agenda

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday will question Goodwin Liu, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley whom President Obama nominated for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

Liu is a controversial choice among Republicans, for both his outspoken liberal views and his opposition to the Supreme Court nominations of Samuel A. Alito Jr. and John G. Roberts Jr. And Republican senators last week unsuccessfully sought to delay Friday's hearing after Liu sent the committee 117 new items, including articles he has written, that were not included in his original response to a questionnaire from the Senate. Democrats would not agree to push back the hearing.

With Obama likely to name a replacement for retiring Justice John Paul Stevens in the next few weeks, both parties may preview in the Liu hearings arguments that they will use in a Supreme Court fight.

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