Taunting is nothing new in politics, but the escalating battle of "he said, he said" between Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) and Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds (R-N.Y.) is drawing notice from even the most hardened of politicos.

The two, chairmen of the House campaign committees for their respective sides, have spent much of the past two weeks battering each other in surprisingly personal ways.

The origin of the ill will is contested. Emanuel traces it to a series of news releases sent out by Reynolds's National Republican Congressional Committee questioning the Democrat's close ties to Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, among other accusations. The NRCC retorts that the ugliness began in May when Emanuel called a Buffalo News reporter -- unsolicited -- to criticize Reynolds -- a breach of House etiquette, the Republicans contend.

Both men have done their part to fuel the feud. Reynolds referred to Emanuel as "Mr. Righteous" in an interview with the Hill newspaper; Emanuel hit back, suggesting Reynolds work out to relieve his stress, seemingly implying that the New York member could do to lose a few pounds.

Upping the ante, the NRCC put out a release Sept. 15 comparing Emanuel's inability to recruit a candidate in a Nevada House race to "that kid in high school who asked all the girls out, but never got a date." Ouch.

In interviews last week, Emanuel and Reynolds played down the back-and-forth as nothing more than politics as usual.

"There may be political jabs and barbs between the two of us, but at the end of the day there is deep respect," said Emanuel, who prior to his election to Congress in 2002 was legendary around Washington for sending a dead fish to a political pollster with whom he had clashed.

Reynolds also played the respect card but pointedly avoided the question of whether he "liked" Emanuel. "He has a job to do, and I have a job to do," Reynolds said matter-of-factly.

Reynolds could not resist one last jab, though, pointing out that whereas he was elected and reelected to his campaign committee post by his colleagues, Emanuel was "appointed" by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Zing!

Istook Eyes Okla. Statehouse

Rep. Ernest J. Istook Jr. (R-Okla.) plans to vacate his House seat to take on Gov. Brad Henry (D) in 2006, according to numerous GOP sources.

The sources said that a formal announcement is scheduled for early October -- which Istook's office would neither confirm nor deny. "While we cannot confirm any specific date, the congressman has made it clear that he is strongly leaning toward entering the governor's race," said Istook spokesman Matt Lambert. Despite the equivocation, Istook has begun to tell his colleagues he is going to run.

This is not the first time around the block for Istook, who was expected to run for the open seat of retiring Sen. Don Nickles (R) in 2004 but abruptly backed away, citing his influential position as a subcommittee chairman -- or "cardinal" in congressional parlance -- on the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

A reorganization of the Appropriations subcommittees -- coupled with House Republican leaders' distaste for the conservative Istook's omission of several members' pet projects from a spending bill, as punishment for their support of increased Amtrak funding -- left the Oklahoma member on the outside looking in.

A Sept. 12-13 poll conducted by Wilson Research Strategies, a Republican firm, showed Istook running strongest of the five potential GOP candidates tested against Henry but still trailing the incumbent by eight points. "You've got to make Henry the favorite," said one Republican strategist.

Social Security Group Matures

As even Republicans begin to admit that changing Social Security is a long shot, the leading Democratic group formed to fight President Bush's proposal is planning some changes of its own.

Within the next two months, Americans United to Protect Social Security is likely to morph into a permanent organization with a broader mission -- to bring progressive viewpoints to a variety of issues, said several sources familiar with the planning.

Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have expressed their support for expanding the group's aim beyond Social Security, as have the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and MoveOn.org, two of the principal financial backers of Americans United.

Gerald W. McEntee, the president of AFSCME, said discussions are already underway concerning budget and staffing for the organization. "We are going to support it 100 percent," he pledged.

Such encouragement from key financial backers is essential, as Americans United has struggled to raise the requisite dollars to fund its operation since its inception in February. There is a belief among those connected to the group that fundraising will be made considerably easier by a broadened portfolio of issues.

No changes in the basic structure or goals of Americans United will be made until Social Security legislation has heaved its last breaths, however. In fact, the organization met Thursday and decided not to formally declare victory given that Republican congressional leaders have yet to publicly pronounce the Social Security makeover dead.

"We do feel victory is imminent," said one source close to the organization, however.

Cillizza is a staff writer for washingtonpost.com.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), head of his party's House campaign committee, discounted "political jabs" traded with Reynolds.Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds (R-N.Y.), the GOP House campaign chairman, called Emanuel "Mr. Righteous" in a newspaper interview.