Thursday, Aug. 21, 2008

The Mother of Three: Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Overkill is not a word in Debbie Wasserman Schultz's vocabulary: applying for her first job out of grad school, Wasserman Schultz sent out more than 500 resumes. Florida state representative Peter Deutsch was so impressed, he not only hired her but also persuaded her to run for his seat four years later. She knocked on 25,000 doors over six months and beat a field of five others to become, at age 26, the youngest woman voters ever sent to Tallahassee. "She's a very, very hard worker," Deutsch says. Twelve years later in 2004, she ran for U.S. Congress from her district north of Miami, winning easily with 70% of the vote. In the House, the mother of three has sponsored bills to tighten child-safety laws concerning swimming pools and restrict imported toys that might be tainted with lead. Her canny grasp of politics and a take-no-chances vote-counting style won her a leadership post, first as a deputy whip and then as a "cardinal" when she became the youngest subcommittee boss on the powerful Appropriations Committee. "That was an overwhelming, oh-my-God moment," Wasserman Schultz, now 41, recalls. Such a rapid rise disgruntled more senior colleagues—the next youngest cardinals are approaching their 10th terms—but the $17 million she raised for her colleagues in the 2006 elections has helped smooth things over. Observes House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: "It is a testament to her intelligence and diligence that she has risen so far so fast after just a few years in the House."

— Jay Newton-Small