GQ: Kiss the Ring

IT'S LATE OCTOBER, and Rahm is sitting under a white umbrella at the Four Seasons in Miami, eating papaya. Across the table is David Quint, a local real estate baron and one of the party's more vigorous recent donors. "I'll get you your checks today," Quint says, rising from the table. Rahm thanks him, walks over to where I'm sitting on the patio, shakes my hand without saying a word, and heads for the lobby. Halfway there, he suddenly turns around. "How are you?" he asks.

He has a lot on his mind. A Washington Post photographer is waiting to shoot him amid some palm trees. Bloomberg TV is set up in a cabana by the pool, waiting to do an interview. And e-mails and phone calls are pouring in about crises in campaigns across the country. Rahm now spends all his time doing two things: meeting with rich people and talking on the phone. He carries a Razr and a BlackBerry, passing them back and forth with his deputy finance director Greg Mecher. "Okay, do the voice-mail thing here," he barks, tossing Mecher the Razr and retrieving the BlackBerry. Endlessly checking messages appears to be Mecher's only job.

Rahm has a love-hate relationship with the press. He knows the payoff that comes from cooperating, but he finds the experience of being watched painful. "Are we done?" he asks the Post photographer, who hasn't even started. Moments later he settles onto a stool and waits for the Bloomberg interview to start. He is now being watched by a reporter, a photographer, the Bloomberg TV crew, and assorted tourists lying by the pool. He seems to be genuinely suffering. "I'm not doing Bloomberg," he finally says. "[Expletive] you guys." Then he softens it into a joke and shouts at the producer, "If I have a drop of sweat, it's your fault! How much longer are we sitting here?"

After the interview, it's up to his suite, where he turns on CNN and parks himself in a straight-backed chair near the window. Mecher positions himself at a desk nearby, prepared for the BlackBerry/Razr handoffs. A breaking report shows more grim news from Iraq as Rahm dials into a conference call for Northeast congressmen. His phone manners are hilariously bad ("Hey, [expletive], call me back" is how he leaves messages for Lapp), but in his defense he speaks to everyone—reporters, candidates, Nancy Pelosi, even his own mother—the same way. "Can I say one thing?" he impatiently yells at the conference-call operator. "I don't want my colleagues to have to press buttons if they want to talk to me. Just open it up. Let's go."

The scale of the post-Foley Republican retreat has become clear, and Rahm runs through the expanded list of races that are now there for the taking: ten that he deems "good," most of them involving Republicans who have been soiled by scandal; seven that he says are "fifty-fifty"; and thirteen more that are "competitive." Rahm explains that both Diane Farrell, the challenger to Republican Chris Shays in Connecticut, and Ron Klein, the challenger to Clay Shaw here in Florida, have moved "five points on Iraq." "The most motivated voters are Iraq voters," he tells his fellow congressmen. "You get a twofer: One is the issue of Iraq, and two is that a lot of their guys have made statements supporting Bush. So you also get the rubber stamp. I want to finish this campaign zeroed in on Iraq. They say terrorism, we say Iraq. They say stay the course, we say change."

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