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The man who Democrats hope can take that Hill

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But Emanuel would rather talk about the members on the Democratic side he is working hardest to protect, those representing Republican districts, such as Stephanie Herseth in South Dakota and Dennis Moore in Kansas. In the 2006 election cycle, the DCCC has cut in half, to 10, the number of vulnerable incumbents it will help with fundraising in its "Frontline" program.

The Democrats face a steep climb to retake the majority, with a current balance of 232 Republicans, 202 Democrats, one independent, and few seats that appear as of now to be in play. But no one can tell the Democrats to stop dreaming or the Republicans to stop worrying. In 1994, the Democrats went into the November election with a 256-178 majority and came out in the minority - and have been there ever since.

"I don't think anyone can tell you, 18 to 19 months out, what is going to happen," says Emanuel. But, he continues, "I am telling you what I told the caucus the day that they asked me to do this: 'Minimize our defensive posture, maximize our offensive posture.' "

It has become his mantra. Open seats - those where a member has retired or been defeated in the primary - are "priority A," he says. "B is where you have a member who not only performed below 55 percent but [has] other issues that are going on in that district."

When Emanuel was named to chair the DCCC, political Washington stood up and took notice. "Rahm's a good selection and can only improve things," says Stuart Rothenberg, editor of a nonpartisan political newsletter, noting that Emanuel not only was a top policy adviser to Clinton but also his finance chair during the 1992 election. "He understands politics and elections, he knows fundraising, he has national contacts. And I think people feel he can do well and so he probably will."

Amy Walter, House-watcher for the Cook Political report, likens the role of DCCC to that of a college president. "You just need to be able to raise money. So that's your No. 1 job. And then you need to know how and where to spend it."

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