They are fast-talking, hard-charging, wisecracking graduates of two of the most punishing political training grounds in the nation. Representative Rahm Emanuel of Chicago and Senator Charles Schumer of New York are loud, garrulous urban brawlers: a blur of endlessly quotable attack lines, opportunistic legislative proposals, relentless fund-raising and big-shoulder tactics.
Emanuel is the head of the Democratic campaign committee in the House, and Schumer has the same job in the Senate. And the Democratic Party this year is counting on them more than anyone to return the party to power in what is shaping up to be the most competitive midterm congressional election in 12 years.
To their supporters, they are energetic and creative -- just the jolt Democrats need to end their period out of power.
"They have the party by the neck and they are shaking it," said James Carville, who met Emanuel in the 1992 presidential campaign for president Bill Clinton. Even Richard Bond, a former Republican National Committee chairman, described them as "both brilliant at what they are doing: they are performing the way party leadership ought to perform."
To their critics they are shameless self-promoters who will do anything -- Emanuel recited a mock "How do I love thee" sonnet from Republicans to lobbyists on the House floor on Thursday -- in search of a headline.
"Rahm has been out there promoting himself and has made a public persona for himself, but it's hard to see what he's actually delivered," said Phil English, a Republican.
Charles Black, a Republican consultant, disputed Schumer's effectiveness as well, saying the public was suffering "Schumer fatigue" because the senator "is out there every day with some new publicity stunt."
Either way, in an era in which politicians tend toward the bland and cautious, Schumer and Emanuel stand out as brazenly colorful characters in a profession that has become increasingly about risk aversion and robotic public performances.
Schumer and Emanuel are models of calculated excess, offering an often startling contrast with their Republican counterparts. Those would be Senator Elizabeth Dole, whose tepid fund-raising and low profile have stirred discontent in her party, and Representative Thomas Reynolds, who is facing a tough challenge to his own seat -- orchestrated by Emanuel.
Schumer and Emanuel harangue contributors, micromanage their candidates and aggressively court newspaper and television coverage. In the process, they are eclipsing the party's national chairman, Howard Dean, in raising money, shaping races and rattling Republicans.
On Thursday, they stood in front of a mock service station price sign to denounce high gas prices - "High gas prices are going to be the final nail in the GOP coffin," Schumer predicted cheerfully - while endorsing an amorphous "Manhattan Project" to reduce US dependence on foreign oil.
Emanuel calls 40 Democratic candidates every weekend, demanding to know what they have done for him lately.
"He calls me on my cellphone just to see where I'm going," said Lois Murphy, a lawyer from the Philadelphia suburbs who is challenging Republican Jim Gerlach.
Emanuel is paternal and approving when his candidates meet his standards for raising money or zinging an opponent. He is withering when they do not. Emanuel is legendary for ceasing communications with those who have displeased him (which presumably is preferable to the time he sent a dead fish to a Democratic pollster whose work he found lacking).