ON ELECTION NIGHT, Rahm sits at a small conference table in his office at the DCCC. A bank of four televisions is propped in front of him. An iPod on his desk plays Shawn Colvin. As returns come in on the Internet, young staffers race by, updating the floor-to-ceiling whiteboard outside Rahm's door. He looks fried. He recently said, "I wake up every night at three in the morning, and all I do is go over the races."
Naturally, Rahm is on the phone. His assistant Katie rushes in with a piece of paper and announces, "I've got the stuff out of Chicago." He reviews the numbers, which are from the Tammy Duckworth race, one of the DCCC's most heavily funded races. Things don't look good. Duckworth, an Iraq-war veteran who lost both her legs to a rocket-propelled grenade and is running in a deep red district, is a personal favorite of Rahm's, and her loss tonight will temper the joyous mood. ("I thought he was going to cry when Tammy Duckworth lost," Bill Clinton later tells me).
Every few minutes, he gets up from his chair, walks to the door, and yells for Katie, an apparently much abused young aide. "Ka-tie! Could somebody hit update on Indiana?" "Ka-tie! Can somebody pull up Yarmuth's numbers?" "Ka-tie! I need Mark Gersh!"
Rahm's attention floats from CNN to his BlackBerry to results his staffers plunk down on his desk. "How's turnout?" he says into the receiver. "For us or for everybody? So it's not good?" But of course, it is good. Things looked so good at the end that in the last two weeks of the campaign, Rahm took Carville's advice and drew an $11.5 million loan to finance a final push into thirteen races that became competitive in the homestretch. In order to surprise the Republicans, the loan was kept secret. Tonight, Democrats will win eight of those thirteen races.
I ask if it matters how big or small the margin of victory is, and Rahm gives me the [expletive]-idiot look one last time. "Remember this," he says, "whether it's fifteen, sixteen, twenty, eighteen, nineteen, or twenty-one"—he speaks slowly and drops to a whisper, articulating every syllable—"the gavel is the same size. You don't get a bigger gavel."
In the end, the number is twenty-nine, with eight additional races where recounts will drag on. More remarkably, Rahm does not lose a single Democratic incumbent—the first time that has happened since 1922. The exit polls suggest a vindication of sorts for Rahm's devotion to Clintonism. The election was a revolt of the middle against Bush's extremism. Then again, it was disgust with Iraq, the issue most dear to the left—and the one that Rahm's sparring partner Howard Dean rode to power—that fueled the political earthquake.