Salena Zito

A little over a month after Barack Obama took the oath as president, and with Democrats dominating Congress, U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas stood before the House Republican conference at a fundraising dinner in Washington.

Sessions said he would consider it a failure if he did not retire Nancy Pelosi and make John Boehner the Speaker of the House in 20 months.

"Anything less, I did not fulfill my mission statement," Sessions stated bluntly.

You could almost hear the sound of collective eye-rolling, wincing and winking in the room. Two years after their thumping in 2006, followed by deeper losses in 2008, most Republicans dismissed his bold proclamation and doubted if he even had a plan.

“I remember looking over at John Boehner as I spoke,” recalls Sessions. “He gave me this sort of sheepish, uneasy look. He had no idea I was going to say that, but I meant it.”

The thing is, “he did have a plan,” says Republican media consultant Brad Todd of On Message Inc. and part of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s independent-expenditure team.

Right after Sessions took over the NRCC in late 2008, Todd says, the 11-term congressman from the Dallas suburbs began dismantling it.

“We sort of started the organizational chart all over again,” he recalls. “By the end of January 2009, the NRCC was torn down and rebuilt.”

For years, the NRCC’s philosophy was incumbent-protection and going after open seats in swing districts. In this cycle it went “guerrilla” – challenging incumbents where it had no business challenging, then going after more traditional swing seats.

Sessions has experience running unconventionally. In his second attempt to win a seat in Congress, he drove around his district with a trailer full of horse manure. He lost that election by less than 2,500 votes.

As the NRCC’s chairman, he also lost the first handful of highly publicized special-election House races in 2009 and 2010.

He never let that bother him, he says, nor get in the way of his larger mission: Retiring Pelosi.

After the midterm elections of 2006 when Democrats plucked 30 seats from Republicans and rose to the majority, Rahm Emanuel, then an Illinois congressman and the Democrats’ campaign chairman, became a household name.

Emanuel’s post-election media coverage was about 900 stories. Sessions? Not so much; he comes in at roughly 200, even though he doubled Emanuel’s electoral wave by more than 30 seats.


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.