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Tea Party Sent Buerkle Into Establishment Favor

Heather Ainsworth/Associated Press

And in contrast to her colleagues' hard-line rhetoric railing against Washington spending, Buerkle talks about the importance of cutting the deficit to preserve the American dream.

On major budgetary votes this year, she has stayed true to her tea party philosophy, voting against the final debt ceiling legislation and in favor of the balanced budget amendment.

But in the battles that have split the Republican Conference, she has shown that she's not willing to step out of line with Republican leadership.

In April and September, for instance, she did not join a group of conservative freshmen voting "no" on previously routine votes for stopgap measures to fund the government. She did not partake in freshman threats of a government shutdown to send a message about government spending or to try to upset the status quo in Washington.

Buerkle has benefited before from being chummy with Republican leadership.

Her credibility as an underdog candidate on the campaign trail came from her connections. She recalls spending time at the back of small town parades, knowing full well that few people took her campaign seriously.

Along the way, though, she received help from top Republicans. She points to a visit from then-House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio), in particular, as boosting her standing with voters. It was "an acknowledgement that people were starting to believe, 'Maybe she could win.'" As a candidate, she says, "you would just never turn down that kind of support."

Even if getting it meant squeezing Boehner's visit into her daughter's wedding day. "We planned this big luncheon for 11:30 [a.m.], and the wedding was at 1:00 [p.m.]. ... He arrived there, and I was sort of overdressed for a luncheon. I was in my mother-of-the-bride garb," she says, laughing.

She had to leave early to run to the wedding, but Boehner stayed to greet her district's voters.

In the past few months, Buerkle has forged bonds with other senior leaders in the House. For instance, her work with Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.) helped land her the presidential appointment to the U.N.

Buerkle describes how she caught the eye of Ros-Lehtinen. "She had observed my positions and knew where I was coming from. ... She referred it to Speaker Boehner, and he referred it to the president."

Ros-Lehtinen praised Buerkle in a statement for having "demonstrated her commitment to ensuring that U.S. taxpayer dollars will not go to waste on U.N. programs" and for being a strong voice on the committee for "real U.N. reform."

Although Buerkle's role is a ceremonial one, it has helped her build a reputation for foreign policy work at the Capitol, getting her a plum assignment co-hosting a Members' briefing on Palestine in November.

But Buerkle hasn't achieved success through relationships alone. Those who know Buerkle well aren't surprised by her recent journey from underdog candidate to an accomplished Congresswoman since she's started from square one before. At the age of 40, she made a major career change.

"It was apparent to me that a mother of six and a nurse was not taken seriously [in public policy debates] because I did not have the credentials," says Buerkle, now 60.

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