His combative style as political director in the early days of the Clinton administration earned him the nickname "Rahmbo." He didn't always produce results, though. Emanuel lost that job but stayed on as a senior adviser and oversaw the development of some of Clinton's top initiatives, including NAFTA and a ban on assault-style weapons.
After a lucrative stint in banking, Emanuel was elected to Congress in 2002 and quickly became a major power. He wound up overseeing the party's House election efforts in 2006 and won a majority for Democrats through tireless fundraising and candidate recruitment.
"He's a good tactician. He's a creative thinker. But I think what probably makes him most successful is that he has the will to follow his convictions," Rep. Danny K. Davis, an Illinois Democrat, said after the 2006 victory.
Emanuel grew up in the ritzy Chicago suburb of Wilmette, the son of an Israeli doctor who moved to the United States. His brother Ari is a Hollywood agent and the inspiration for Ari Gold, the Type-A superagent on the HBO series Entourage. The congressman himself has been called an inspiration for presidential aide Josh Lyman on the drama series The West Wing.
As a teenager, Emanuel was more interested in the arts than politics. He studied dance and won a scholarship to train with the Joffrey Ballet but ended up attending Sarah Lawrence College and then getting a master's degree in communications at Northwestern University.
Then he went to work for a little-known Arkansas governor who wanted to be president.
Emanuel's fundraising skills are credited with helping keep Bill Clinton's campaign afloat during some rocky times, particularly the scandal over whether he slept with Gennifer Flowers.
In 1999, Emanuel left the White House for Chicago to work in investment banking. The firm he joined was soon sold and Emanuel made millions, giving him the financial security to get back into politics. His first financial disclosure statement as a House member indicated he had about $9.7 million in earned income the previous year.
Emanuel also spent just over a year on the board of Freddie Mac, the mortgage company whose lending policies contributed to the nation's housing crisis. The presidential appointment, which ended in May 2001, paid him at least $292,774 in director's fees, according to a financial disclosure report Emanuel filed when he ran for Congress.
He was vice chairman of the Chicago Housing Authority and also served on the boards of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, beautyjungle.com and Slim-Fast, whose founder, S. Daniel Abraham, is a major Democratic donor.
When he was tapped to oversee the 2006 House campaign effort, Emanuel led a record fundraising effort, bringing in far more money than four years earlier. The single biggest source of money was other members of Congress, which irritated some members who faced fierce pressure to contribute.
The additional money enabled House Democrats to expand the field, going into districts that hadn't been considered competitive before. That sometimes meant recruiting more conservative candidates, an Emanuel strategy that generated some complaints.
But his success in electing a Democratic majority soothed most hard feelings and confirmed Emanuel as a major force in the House - perhaps even a future speaker.
Emanuel and his wife have three children. He told Chicago's WLS-TV on Wednesday that he needed to consider the impact of the job on his family before accepting.
"I have a lot to weigh: the basis of public service, which I've given my life to, a career choice. And most importantly, what I want to do as a parent," he said. "And I know something about the White House. That, I assume, is one of the reasons that President-elect Obama would like me to serve. But I also know something about what it means to a family."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun