In Siding With Boehner, N.C.’s Renee Ellmers Finds Her Voice

John Boehner

Mrs. Ellmers, 47, a nurse who was elected to Congress in 2010 with zero political experience, had been given the task of helping to sell the bill championed by Speaker John A. Boehner to raise the debt ceiling, a job usually left to the leaders of her party. She took a deep breath and plunged into an explanation of how the task of lawmaking compared to saving a patient near death.

“America is in a code,” she said, urging people to rally behind Mr. Boehner. “It’s crisis time, and it ain’t pretty.”

In a hospital, she said, “there were people in the room that you may not have even liked, but you were all working together to save the patient.”

“And in the end you were high-fiving, hugging, crying and laughing,” she said.

Mrs. Ellmers’s willingness to promote Mr. Boehner’s agenda places her in direct contrast to some of her freshman colleagues, who prefer to repair to Fox News to verbally poke the Republican leadership in the eye.

Her loyalty, relentless cheer and folksy locution — a news conference complement to the laconic, cigarette-tinged pronouncements of Mr. Boehner — have combined to make her one of the Republican leadership’s greatest freshman allies, and a rising star in the conference she once derided from her perch at Tea Party rallies back home.

There is Mrs. Ellmers giving the Republicans’ weekly radio address. There she is on CNN or “Fox and Friends,” explaining why Mr. Boehner’s plan to deal with the debt ceiling — one that many of her classmates protested — was the right path. There she is writing op-ed articles and pushing the message of the leaders, rather than of the elected president of the freshman class.

Her willingness to join the leadership, rather than beat up on it, is something that Tea Party groups in her state have begun to notice. Mrs. Ellmers understands their chagrin because she has been there.

“There is just a lot of mistrust Americans have for ‘those people in Washington,’ ” she said, adding with a laugh, “and now I am one of those people in Washington.”

Mrs. Ellmers said that before she arrived here, she believed Mr. Boehner and his cohorts were not standing up to Democrats. “When I got here I realized that wasn’t the case at all,” she said. “I was told he wasn’t conservative. He is conservative. And that’s what I tell other people in our discussion.”

For the most part, she has voted for bills supported by the House Republican leadership, parting ways most notably on Libya, where she voted against eliminating money for that operation.

In an e-mail, Mr. Boehner said: “Renee has made quite an impact in our conference and in her freshman class because she speaks her mind and doesn’t get bogged down in the political games that often grip Washington.  I am proud of the work she has done and know that because of her conservative, common-sense values, she will continue to play a leadership role.”

Mrs. Ellmers’s support for the leadership is even more noteworthy since she was all but abandoned by her party during her 2010 campaign against Bob Etheridge, a seven-term Democratic incumbent. After a recount, she was certified as the winner by 1,484 votes out of almost 190,000 ballots cast.

In her months on Capitol Hill, Mrs. Ellmers has revised her notion that Washington was populated by snakes in suits. “I think that folks back home see those that are here in Washington as more characters than actual individuals with families and mortgage payments,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting people to be as down to earth as they are. We’re not disconnected. We really understand what Americans are going through.”

Further, said Mrs. Ellmers, who is married with a son, 16, she has come to respect the actual work. “I think what they also don’t see is how hard we all work here,” she said.

“It never ends. Myself, I start getting up at 5:30 in the morning, and I am usually not ending the day till 11, 11:30 at night. I do think that’s one of the things that folks back home certainly don’t have the opportunity to see, how hard we work here, especially when it seems like we aren’t getting anything done here.”

During the current recess, Mrs. Ellmers is trying to persuade her constituents in central North Carolina that she has been right to stand with the Republican leadership and that she and her party are right in their fiscal vision for the nation.

For Democrats in North Carolina, who are already seeing their Congressional districts carved up to be more favorable to Republicans, there is a hope that Mrs. Ellmers’s associations with Mr. Boehner and Republican policies will make her vulnerable in the 2012 campaign.

“The Tea Party has been overreaching in this state,” said David Parker, chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party. “A lot of programs that were very popular programs have been slashed. At the end of the day, I think she gets painted with the same brush. I think we are looking at some interesting ebbs and flows, and I believe she’ll be swept back out on the street.”

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