Rep. Aaron Schock Looks to Build Political Profile
The Republican Has Embraced the Attention He Garnered After a Splashy ’09 Entrance to Congress
Rep. Aaron Schock’s youth and media strategy might not fit the Congressional mold, but neither does the 30-year-old lawmaker, who is using his notoriety to build his legislative and political profile.
“Obviously, there are people that are going to say, ‘Oh you know, I don’t like that style’ or ‘I don’t think that makes sense.’ But I’m a big believer if you want to change people’s minds or get someone to vote for you, either a voter or a colleague, you’ve got to first get their attention,” the Illinois Republican said during a recent interview in his office.
“If people don’t know who you are, they’re not going to listen to your message. And not everybody pays attention to politicians by watching Fox News and CNN,” he said.
Schock came to Congress in 2009 with a bang, thanks in large part to shirtless pictures on celebrity gossip website TMZ. Rather than cower from the attention, Schock embraced it, most notably by posing shirtless for Men’s Health magazine last May.
“When Men’s Health reached out and said, ‘Will you be on the “Today Show” and do a fitness challenge?’ I said, ‘OK. I’m not showing them anything they don’t already know,'” he said. “But I’m going to take what some would argue is a negative or not substantive and turn it into a substantive thing to hopefully do some good for people.”
Schock noted that 40,000 people participated in what he described as the most successful fitness challenge campaign ever launched by the magazine.
“It made an impact,” he said unapologetically.
Schock is also building up his own political profile back home. He helped recruit freshman Rep. Adam Kinzinger and campaigned for many of the four other House GOP candidates who won in Illinois in 2010. He gave $319,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee during the 2010 cycle, and during the past two election cycles, he has raised more than $1.3 million for Congressional and statewide candidates.
Schock also started the Majority Makers program this year to target state House and Senate races back home. He created it with $250,000 of seed money and some financial buy-in from Rep. John Shimkus and Illinois state House lawmakers. Illinois Republicans need to win seven state House seats to win the majority in that chamber, and Schock’s Majority Makers aims to clear 10 victories this year.
For Congressional races, Schock has his GOP Gen-Y PAC.
“I hope I’m building a record of being a good team player and not just standing for my principles but being willing to work for them,” Schock said. “I think when you do that and you work really hard, people take notice.”
Now in his second term (his first in the majority), Schock also has sought to bolster his policy profile. He earned a spot on the powerful Ways and Means Committee last year and recently unveiled legislation to roll back tax reporting requirements for small businesses. He created the Colombia Caucus and, after visiting the country twice, advocated strongly for the free-trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, which passed the House last fall.
Schock’s style may be vastly different from that of his buttoned-down colleagues, but many agree it is effective.
“I think he likes people misperceiving him because it works to his advantage,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry, whom Schock replaced as the youngest Member when he was elected in 2008.
“I don’t know if he’s actively cultivating it or amused by it, but it’s an interesting case study in figuring out how to be both young and effective,” the North Carolina Republican added.
Schock is a Whip team member, and more recently, he added campaign surrogate to his résumé as one of Mitt Romney’s presidential supporters and a member of his national finance team. Schock committed to raising $250,000 for the former Massachusetts governor and traveled to Iowa ahead of the Hawkeye State’s January caucuses, leaving some to wonder whether it would be the Illinois Congressman campaigning for higher office there some day.
Still, aides say Schock’s unique approach to the job, including the magazine photos and fashionable suit choices, gives some Members pause when judging their colleague. And some have quietly grumbled that it might not be sustainable if he wants to project a wonkier persona.
Schock’s prodigious rise in politics, beginning with his successful run for a seat on the Peoria school board at the age of 19, is well-known. Less clear is his future, which could stretch for decades. Political observers note that Schock’s new district in central Illinois was drawn so safe that it has led to suggestions that Democrats are trying to keep him happy in the House and away from any statewide bid.
“I think he would be the top candidate on the Republican side if [Sen. Dick Durbin] retired or if he wanted to run for governor,” one Illinois Republican said. “His ability to fundraise and be popular with conservatives without coming across as an ideologue would suit him well if he chooses to run.”
Schock would not allude to his future ambitions, saying, “In the case of where my future may lie, I kind of chuckle when people ask me, ‘Where are you going to be in 10 years?’ I mean, 10 years ago, I was in [college].”
“The idea that I know what my future is going to be in four years or six years or 10 years, I don’t know,” he said. “I’m certainly not going to rule anything out.”