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Tea Party Sent Buerkle Into Establishment Favor

Heather Ainsworth/Associated Press

In the corner of Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle's Longworth office, three recently framed newspaper clippings lean against the wall, not yet displayed for visitors.

Buerkle reaches for the one with the headline "Voters pick sides in a race full of contrasts." The October 2010 story decisively predicted that Rep. Dan Maffei would win re-election in New York's 25th district. In a bold font, it showed the results of a Siena poll that found her trailing Maffei by 12 points just three weeks before the election.

Holding up the frame, the Republican freshman says, "I never thought of not winning."

In one of the closest races in the nation, which took three weeks to finalize, she edged Maffei by 648 votes.

One year later, she faces a different set of challenges. Committee work quickly piles up. Concerned constituents demand her attention. And, of course, there's always campaign fundraising.

But she approaches freshman year challenges in the House with the same attitude.

Asked about her first impressions of working at the Capitol, she says she was pleasantly surprised by the culture. "The caliber of people in Congress is very high," she tells Roll Call, sitting at the edge of her chair and clad in a pink blazer.

She even downplays the challenges of being a newcomer in the House, where it can take years to gain political influence, not to mention name recognition.

"I don't think there is something like being at the bottom of the totem pole here in Washington," she says. "As a Member of Congress, there is no bottom."

Buerkle's comments might be surprising given that an unpopular Congress receives few compliments these days, but she has a few things to brag about after just 11 months of service.

In October, the House passed with bipartisan support a bill she sponsored to change the way Veterans Affairs hospitals report sexual assaults. Add to that the fact that she recently received a presidential appointment to serve as a Congressional representative to the United Nations General Assembly, a rare feat for someone who just got here.

Buerkle plays a distinct role in the Republican freshman class. She rode the tea party wave to Washington, winning an upstate New York district that leans Democratic on promises of reducing the size of government and repealing the health care overhaul.

Buerkle describes the new Republican freshmen as the "most inspirational" group she's encountered in Washington. "Many left the private sector, left successful careers, to come down here because of what they believed in," she says.

But during the past year, she's shown that she has a different style of legislating from many of her first-year colleagues.

While many have gone out of their way to establish themselves as Washington outsiders — even going so far as sleeping in their offices — Buerkle makes it sound like she enjoys working inside the Beltway.

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