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Aaron Schock, GOP's fresh face, mixes TMZ and House committees

The Illinois congressman, 27, is getting attention from paparazzi and politicos, and he's prepared to take full advantage of it.

April 05, 2009|James Oliphant

WASHINGTON — He is the Republican Dream Date, a smooth-speaking, polished product of Illinois, as comfortable with Facebook as a face-to-face. John McCain's daughter gushed over him as the future of the party. He blogs for the liberal webzine Huffington Post, which said he sports the best abs in Congress. TMZ trails him like a pop star.

And he is two decades younger than Barack Obama.

Aaron Schock, 27, hasn't wanted for attention since being elected to the House of Representatives last fall. He has bounced from Stephen Colbert's show to CNN, and his own videos go viral on YouTube.

Much of the interest stems from his unlined face and full head of brown hair. (He recently brushed aside a suggestion from Howard Kurtz on CNN that he take off his jacket and show his physique for TMZ, which had asked Schock to compare his abs to President Obama's.)

Schock offers an alternative to GOP tent poles such as Sens. McCain of Arizona and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and House Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio.

For a fresh face, you have to turn to Schock and other Republicans such as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia. But the Illinois congressman can top them all in one respect: He's Capitol Hill's first Reagan baby, born during the Republican lodestar's first term.

Look at it another way: Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), who at 82 is the House's longest-serving member, had been in Congress for 26 years when Schock was born.

Congress is one place where being young is newsworthy. The average age of a lawmaker this session is 58.2.

And Schock is prepared to take full advantage. Other politicos might feel trivialized if they were ambushed by TMZ's cameras or won a "most attractive member" poll. But for the media-savvy Schock, it's all about keeping the channel open.

"First, you've got to get their attention," Schock said last week outside the House chamber before he entered for a vote on the budget. "Step 1 in getting anyone's vote is getting their attention."

That may be part of the long-term plan. Schock's Internet reputation belies his serious, even wonky approach to his new job. On Thursday, he hosted a conference call for reporters to discuss his plan for a payroll tax holiday for small businesses. At his request, he serves on three committees, more than most freshmen are allowed in their first term.

He has joined the Republican Study Committee, a home for deficit hawks. This week, he goes on his first overseas congressional trip. (The location is undisclosed because of security concerns.)

Cantor, the House's rising Republican strategist and party whip, named Schock a deputy whip, making him part of the leadership team. Already, Schock has campaigned for Republicans such as Jim Tedisco in the special congressional election held in upstate New York last week. (Balloting in that race was so close that the winner is not yet known.)

Cantor calls Schock one of his "young guns" and says, "In only a few short months in Washington, he has already established himself as a leader."

Schock acknowledges that "I've been given opportunities other members haven't." He likes to speak about diversity in terms of age, sounding at times like a generational warrior, battling for his demographic.

"Everyone talks about black or white or men and women, but the caucus of 20-year-olds is pretty lonely," he said.

And his age, Schock said, "gives me a different perspective from [the rest of] our party. People say 'Ronald Reagan, Ronald Reagan, Ronald Reagan.' I was born after he became president. While I think it's important to study history, we have to make our party relevant for the future."

In that vein, Schock sees himself as someone not rooted in many of the political battles of past decades. "The issues of [racial] discrimination are by and large issues of the '60s and '70s. That doesn't mean we shouldn't stay vigilant on issues of discrimination. But I grew up in a very colorblind society," Schock said.

He wooed the African American vote in his Peoria district and got a fair chunk of it.

Trevor Francis, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, called Schock "critical" in the party's efforts to expand beyond its traditional base.

Schock said he had been approached by more senior members of the House, looking for advice on how to reach young people, particularly through modern media tools.

"People are starting to go: 'Hey, maybe I do need a Web page. Maybe I need a Facebook page,' " he said.

The unmarried lawmaker has always been on the fast track, a kid in a hurry to grow up. He was elected to the Peoria school board at 19, then to the Illinois House at 23. So, Washington at 27 seems on schedule.

Right now, Schock's celebrity is larger outside the House chamber -- a place defined by the privileges of seniority -- than in it. His tiny office, on the fifth floor of the Cannon building (most of the building's elevators only reach the fourth floor), looks more like a dorm. Visiting dignitaries new (such as Colbert) and old (such as J. Dennis Hastert, the former Republican House Speaker from Illinois) have signed the walls.

Schock said he didn't want to slow down, get too comfortable with all of this.

"I know why [members of Congress] don't continue to work as hard as you do when you first get here," he says. "Because it's a lot of work."

--

joliphant@latimes.com

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