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Reynolds, counterpart escalating their rivalry

Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, chairman of the 2006 Republican House campaign committee, and his Democratic counterpart are in a high-profile fight that some Reynolds partisans see as personal and mean-spirited.

The give-and-take between the Clarence Republican and Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel, who heads the Democratic House campaign committee, is spiced by name-calling by both sides and a recent encounter on the streets of Capitol Hill.

According to several accounts, Reynolds was riding in his car recently and noticed Emanuel walking toward his office. Reynolds reportedly called out, "What do you mean I have a lot of stress?"

Emanuel reportedly responded, "I'm just saying the redness of your face shows you have high blood pressure, and from what I'm hearing from your wife, she thinks I'm right."

Reynolds told The Buffalo News on Monday that he and Emanuel, whom he respects, were engaged in "good-natured kidding."

In an earlier interview with a Washington newspaper, Reynolds had called Emanuel, a Chicagoan who was a key political operative in the Clinton White House, "Mr. Righteous."

Emanuel hit back, suggesting that Reynolds get some exercise "to relieve his stress," seemingly saying that Reynolds could lose a few pounds.

The exchanges, however, have moved well beyond personal jibes: Emanuel's committee is sending out barrages against Reynolds' voting record as a congressman.

Adding to the tension is the fact that the communications directors of the two campaign committees are from Buffalo. Carl Forti of the National Republican Congressional Committee, was born and reared there, as was Bill Burton of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

It all started, Forti said, when Emanuel made an "unsolicited" telephone call to Buffalo News political reporter Robert J. McCarthy last May to attack Reynolds.

"It's most unusual," Forti said, "for their chairman to place a phone call unsolicited to a reporter in the hometown of the other chairman."

Burton said the Democrats reject the "idea that elected officials ought to operate behind closed doors in Washington out of sight and hearing of the people."

Emanuel's call to The News, Burton said, was "expanding the field of play to include people who don't properly represent their districts -- and that includes Congressman Reynolds."

Burton says that Reynolds' vote for the Central American Free Trade Agreement is opposed by most of Reynolds' constituents, but Reynolds counters that CAFTA is backed by small manufacturers and farmers. Most recently, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee criticized Reynolds for his membership in the Republican Study Group, which includes the most conservative members of the House.

Reynolds said, however, that he does not support the study group's proposed delay in implementing the Medicare prescription drug program or its call to dismantle the recently passed $284 billion highway and transit spending bill.

e-mail: dturner@buffnews.com

The Associated Press and the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call contributed to this report.

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