The biggest challenge facing Democrats next year is the congressional redistricting pushed through by the Republican majority that, on the surface, will make it very difficult for the left to win an appreciable number of races. Out of 435 seats in the House, Democrats need just a net gain of 15 seats to regain control. Sound like a paltry sum? Sure. But the Republicans' craftiness in redrawing districts has reduced the number of seats in play to about 30, versus about 90 this same time before the 1994 election, according to the Cook Political Report, an independent campaign handicapper. In short, both Democratic and Republican districts were reinforced, but the all-important, highly coveted swing districts have all been erased. To say that winning 15 out of 30 seats is a fantasy would be an understatement. Emanuel certainly has his work cut out for him.
Emanuel is highly respected in Democratic circles for his tenacity and tireless work ethic. "I've known Rahm for more than 20 years and he has always been a fighter for Democratic values, even before he was first elected to Congress," said former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe earlier in the year. "With Rahm now using his talents to help Democratic candidates across the country, I know we will take back the House in 2006."
To get there, Emanuel's main task is to raise funds and build a bigger war chest than the GOP. He was a cash cow for Bill Clinton back in the early 90's when he was a young, brash, relentless fundraiser. He still has his mojo, and has already raised a record-breaking $32-million. But if the Democrats are going to win next year they'll need more than money. They need viable, engaging candidates and a solid platform with a clear message that will resonate well with voters, especially moderate Republicans and Independents. Emanuel leans toward the center, and favors a range of benefits to help the middle class such as college tax breaks; retirement savings incentives; and the importing of lower-cost prescription drugs.
But the Democrats need much more than that. We need to lay out a creative exit strategy for the war. We need to develop a universal health plan that makes good political, social and economic sense. We need to improve our educational system. We need an intelligent alternative energy and fuel plan. We need a sound economic policy designed to drastically reduce our national debt, create new jobs and stave off inflation. And, in what was the cornerstone of the Bushies' main political appeal, we need to demonstrate to voters that they can entrust us with national security and the protection of our borders. We need our version of the Contract With America, Newt Gingrich's and the GOP's very potent weapon used back in '94 to take control of Congress.
"This is about winning campaigns. I come from the Vince Lombardi school: 'Winning is everything,'" he said.