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Christine Cegelis Got 44% Against Henry Hyde in '04; So Why is DCCC Head Rahm Emanuel Undermining Her '06 Campaign?

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Rep. Henry Hyde, the 81-year-old hypocrite Republican blowhard who led the House impeachment effort against President Bill Clinton in the 1990's and subsequently faced humiliation and embarrassment when news of his 5-year adulterous affair became public, will be vacating the 6th Congressional District seat he's held for almost 30 years. In the '04 election, his Democratic challenger, Christine Cegelis, commanded 44% of the vote, more than any challenger since his first run for Congress in 1974. In their effort to hang onto Hyde's seat, the GOP is pushing state Sen. Peter Roskam (R-Wheaton), a Tom Delay protege, who'll likely face the winner of the Democratic primary to be held in March. Head-to-head against Roskam, you'd think Cegelis would stand a terrific shot of capturing another 7% and winning the election, right? Apparently, Rep. Rahm Emanuel (ILL), head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, doesn't think so.

Yesterday I wrote about Emanuel, his progress at the DCCC, and his rough and tumble qualities that the party desperately needs right now in battling the Republicans. But today I write about something quite puzzling about Emanuel. Rather than throw his political muscle and DCCC money behind Cegelis--a 51 year old single mother and businesswoman--Emanuel is instead recruiting Army Maj. Ladda "Tammy" Duckworth, a Hofffman Estates resident, who lost both her legs in Iraq. She has not yet accepted his invitation to run for Hyde's seat. "She expressed her interest. That's where it is," he said. Duckworth is undergoing physical therapy and faces many medical challenges as a result of her injuries. With no political experience, and having serious health issues, it's a mystery why Duckworth appeals more to Emanuel than the candidate who almost whipped Hyde's philandering ass last year.

One explanation is that Emanuel has not been happy with Cegelis's fundraising efforts. Between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, Cegelis raised $159,885 and has $48,973 cash on hand. That's not good enough for Emanuel, so he's begun looking for an alternative. What's troubling is that Emanuel's main function as DCCC head is to raise funds for viable candidates who are struggling financially, and Cegelis is about as viable as they come in the 6th District race. Again, she captured 44% against a 31-year, 16-term Republican legend; in my book that makes her the Democrats' best shot and Emanuel should embrace her with everything he's got.

Emanuel also seems hellbent on recruiting fantasy candidates who fit a certain high profile: military vets, law enforcement, athletes. In doing so, he seems to be chasing what he believes to be a winning Republican strategy. Is he onto something here? Perhaps. But these backgrounds don't in and of themselves make one fit for public service. It's quite possibly style over substance, and that would be a disaster for our side.

Winning Hyde's seat is very much within reach for the Democrats. Roskam, a former legislative assistant to scandal-plagued former House Leader Tom Delay, was himself investigated in 1992 by the Illinois Attorney general and the IRS for possible campaign finance abuses. Like his former boss, he's no pillar of morality. It's shouldn't be too hard to mount an effective campaign against him.

Let's hope that Emanuel, rather than possibly chasing down a fantasy, puts his immense clout and financial support behind candidates who have experience and can win, and not just those who look good in uniform. Until I see otherwise, Christine Cegelis, who's been endorsed by Howard Dean and Sen. Richard Durbin (ILL), seems very worthy of that support.
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Andy Ostroy, a NYC-based 45-year-old entrepreneur and political commentator, is an aggressive counter to the Bush administration, the Republican Party and the powerful right wing media machine. Our mission is to do whatever possible to help Democrats take back the House and Senate in 2006 and win (more...)
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