In the 2006 midterm elections, the Democratic party ended twelve years of electoral humiliation by seizing back Congress and putting an end to Republican rule. The Thumpin’ is the story of that historic victory and the man at the center on whom Democratic hopes hinged: Congressman Rahm Emanuel, head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).
Chicago Tribune reporter Naftali Bendavid had exclusive access to Emanuel and the DCCC in the year and a half leading up to the elections and ended up with the story of a lifetime, the thrilling blow-by-blow account of how Emanuel remade the campaign in his own ferocious image. Responsible for everything from handpicking Congressional candidates to raising money for attack ads, Emanuel, a talented ballet dancer better known in Washington for his extraordinary intensity and his inexhaustible torrents of profanity, threw out the playbook on the way Democrats run elections.
Instead of rallying the base, Rahm sought moderate-to-conservative candidates who could attract more traditional voters. Instead of getting caught in the Democrats’ endless arguments about their positions, he went on the attack, personally vilifying Republicans from Tom DeLay to Christopher Shays. And instead of abiding by the gentlemen’s agreements of good-old-boy Washington, he broke them, attacking his counterpart in the Republican party and challenging Howard Dean, the chairman of his own party.
In 2005, no one believed victory was within the Democrats’ grasp. But as the months passed, Republicans were caught in wave after wave of scandal, support for the war in Iraq steadily declined, and the president’s poll numbers plummeted. And in Emanuel, the Democrats finally had a killer, a ruthless closer like Karl Rove or Lee Atwater, poised to seize the advantage and deliver what President Bush would call “a thumpin.’”
Taking its cues from classic political page-turners like Showdown at Gucci Gulch and documentaries like The War Room, The Thumpin’ takes us inside the key races and the national strategy-making that moved the Democrats from forecasted gains of three seats in 2005 to a sweeping gain of thirty seats when the votes were finally counted. Through this masterful account of Rahm’s rout, Bendavid shows how the lessons the Democrats learned in 2006—to fight for every vote, to abandon litmus tests, and to take no prisoners—will be crucial to the party’s future electoral success, and shape the political course the nation will take in the twenty-first century.
Naftali Bendavid is deputy Washington bureau chief for the Chicago Tribune. Since 1997, he has served as the paper’s Justice Department correspondent and White House correspondent. Bendavid has also worked at several other papers, including the Miami Herald and Legal… More about Naftali Bendavid
“In this remarkably reported and beautifully written book, Naftali Bendavid provides a vivid, no-holds-barred account of how one man—through force of willpower, drive, and vision—led Democrats to respect and power in Washington after years of Republican dominance. With unprecedented access, Bendavid puts you inside the room and on the campaign trail with Rahm Emanuel, the fiery leader of the Democratic effort, as he cajoles and curses his way to an improbable sweep of the House in 2006. This is a gripping story, tautly told, of a pivotal election that dramatically changed the power structure in the nation’s capital and put significant limits on President Bush’s agenda.” —Jan Crawford Greenburg, legal correspondent, ABC News, and author of Supreme Conflict: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States Supreme Court
“Naftali Bendavid got amazing access for a political reporter, and in The Thumpin’ he puts it to effective use. His book provides a revealing look at how modern political campaigns are actually run. His portrait of Rahm Emanuel—warts and all—is insightful and often entertaining.” —Michael Isikoff, author of Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War