If by some odd chance you haven't heard of Illinois Republican Rep. Aaron Schock, perhaps you aren't looking in the right places.
Schock is 28 years old, the youngest member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He was catapulted onto the national stage last year as part of a GOP pilot program to identify fresh "Young Guns" and encourage them to run.
He has been featured in Details, the men's fashion magazine. He has been named a "House Hottie" by GOP scion Meghan McCain in her column for the Daily Beast. And he has an upcoming photo spread in GQ and has been the subject of countless network profiles.
The 'MySpace' Generation (And That Abs Photo)
On a recent day, Schock took a reporter on a tour of his office, on the fifth floor of the Cannon House Office Building.
"This is my freshman quarters," Schock says. "This is our famous wall that we ask our distinguished guests to put their John Hancocks on."
Scribbled in permanent marker are famous and less famous autographs, from former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) to political satirist Stephen Colbert to the head of the celebrity gossip site TMZ, Harvey Levin. Levin's site has hounded Schock over the rumored definition of his stomach muscles, asking him at one point whether he has "better abs" than President Obama.
"I don't know," Schock said. "We'll have to match up sometime."
This kind of thing started up when a poolside photo of Schock, taken by a friend, surfaced online.
"And little did I know that, you know, a picture from two years ago from someone's MySpace page would end up on, you know, national TV," he said.
He adds, "Someone who is, you know, 50 years old, then runs for Congress, they don't have a MySpace page and their friends don't have MySpace pages. But I think as we see a whole new generation of candidates, especially this next cycle in 2010, you will see more individuals who go through the same situations I have."
Schock says Republicans need to tap into new audiences where they can. He isn't worried about the attention, and neither are GOP luminaries like Wisconsin's Paul Ryan.
"What's great about Aaron is we want more people like him here in Congress," Ryan says. "He's a reformer and he brings a youthful perspective and he brings a lot of energy to this job — and that's fantastic. If he gets celebrity for that, fine. We want more people like him here."
Early Start In Politics
Schock is arguably the only congressman who knows what plays in Peoria, Ill. He was elected to the school board there at age 19 — and then to the Illinois Statehouse at 23 and to Congress at 27.
When he arrived on Capitol Hill, GOP leaders tapped him to be a deputy whip and planted him on the influential transportation committee, among other panels. During the economic stimulus debate, Obama lobbied him on Air Force One only to see Schock vote no on the bill. Schock says the Democrats' bipartisan efforts aren't what they claim to be.
"You don't say, 'Here's a bill that we exclusively wrote and now I am reaching out to you less than 24 hours before the vote and asking for your support,' " Schock says. "If you want Republican support, you have to reach out during the development stage of a bill so there are compromise ideas in the bill."
On key votes from the stimulus bill to the cap-and-trade environmental legislation, Schock has voted strictly along party lines. He joined a parade of GOP colleagues on the House floor recently in speaking against the pending health care overhaul.
"In actuality, this plan — their health care proposal — will limit access to care," he said. "Their bill will decrease the number of jobs and will actually add a tax on every small-business owner in America."
Here again, Schock says his age has been an asset, because he brings another point of view.
"When we talk about the size of our debt and we talk about paying it back over the next 30 years," he says, "I hope to be alive for the next 30 years, and it will be me and, you know, my family that's responsible for paying that debt back."
Schock says his dream would be to help bring in a diverse farm team of young Republicans to Congress. It is something he was already working on earlier this month when he headlined a fundraiser for Hastert's son, Ethan, who is making a bid for Congress in 2010.