How They Turned It Around in November
When NBC canceled The West Wing last January, Jay Leno quipped, "You know things are bad when even fictional Democrats aren't doing well." In less than a year, however, four Democratic leaders took the party from punch line to power, capturing both chambers of Congress in November's midterm elections. It was the biggest Washington upset since the Republican revolution of 1994. How did they do it? San Francisco's Nancy Pelosi, 66, who will become the first female Speaker of the House, kept the spotlight on G.O.P. ethics scandals and Iraq, not herself, neutralizing Republican charges of liberalism and national-security weakness. The former amateur boxer and Nevada centrist Harry Reid, 67, picked the right fights in the Senate, blocking the most controversial Bush appointees, while ducking many of the no-win national-security battles the Republicans launched.
Out in the country, it was Illinois Representative Rahm Emanuel, 48, and New York Senator Charles Schumer, 56, the field marshals for the House and Senate campaigns, who drove the Democratic victory, recruiting strong candidates and raising more than $300 million. Both showed cold-eyed skill: Schumer, long a backer of abortion rights, picked a pro-life candidate to take out Pennsylvania's Rick Santorum, the Senate's third-ranking Republican; Emanuel spent heavily against scandal-tainted incumbents, winning surprise victories in normally safe districts from California to New York. The most important thing all four did? As the Republicans reeled from policy failures and ethics scandals, the gang of four knew when to let them collapse on their own and when to give them a push. Keeping their own balance now will be harder, especially in a closely divided Senate. "We need to prove to the American people we are prepared to lead and ready to govern," says Pelosi.