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Matsui Downplays Talk Of Leaving DCCC Post

Rep. Robert Matsui (D-Calif.) on Tuesday sought to downplay a published report in which he said he will not serve another term as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, but knowledgeable party insiders insist his mind is made up.

Key Democratic leadership aides said Matsui, tapped by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) for the fundraising post in late 2002, has all but said he won’t stay on for a second election cycle. They said Matsui, a senior Democrat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, has never relished the highly political post, which takes much of his attention away from his first priority: policy-making.

Matsui, however, insisted in a telephone interview that he hasn’t made any decisions about his future, nor would he be presumptuous enough to believe Pelosi would ask him to take on another term. Matsui explained he “maybe was a little strong” or “mischaracterized” his plans earlier this week when he told The Sacramento Bee that “my intention is not to be chairman in January.”

The California lawmaker said he wasn’t signaling a lack of interest in spending another cycle helming the DCCC. Rather, he said he was trying to remain neutral and make clear he doesn’t have any expectations that Pelosi will tap him for the job.

“I serve at the pleasure of the leader,” Matsui said. “Certainly because of my personal relationship and friendship, I wouldn’t want to put pressure on her to give an indication one way or another that I wouldn’t want to serve. She’ll make that decision at the time that she chooses.”

Senior sources throughout the Caucus said Matsui never sought the DCCC job in the first place, and Pelosi had to talk him into doing it. One Democratic aide said: “Many in the Caucus expect him to make it clear to the leader that he doesn’t wish to return as the chairman.”

“I don’t think you slip up like that with your hometown paper if you haven’t made up your mind,” said the aide.

Another Democratic leadership aide said Pelosi hasn’t asked Matsui to take on another cycle, nor has she made any decisions about whom she would tap instead. This staffer acknowledged, however, that getting Matsui to pull another tour of duty would be a “heavy lift.”

A different senior Democratic aide said it wouldn’t be surprising if Matsui opts out of another cycle, given that the DCCC chairmanship is “an incredibly grueling position,” one which a Member rarely takes on for more than one election cycle. The past two chairmen — Reps. Nita Lowey (N.Y.) and Patrick Kennedy (R.I.) — served two years apiece. Rep. Martin Frost (Texas), who preceded Lowey and Kennedy, served as chairman for four years.

‘In this day and age, with the work involved and the money that has to be raised, for any Member it really is a two-year venture,” said the staffer.

“I was surprised he agreed to do it in the first place,” added a Democratic consultant. “He was always her first choice. This is not a natural fit for him. He has done a great job, but this was always a temporary gig.”

Matsui said if Pelosi asked him today to serve again, he would “give it a great deal of consideration.” At the same time, however, he said he would also support the Minority Leader if she opts to pick someone new in 2005.

“I would say that if she would ask me, I would have to give it a great deal of thought,” he later added. “But it’s the best I can really do. By no means will I rule it out.”

Matsui said even though the job is time-consuming and does take time away from his love of issues such as Social Security, tax writing and trade, he stressed that he is enjoying the chairmanship.

Throughout the Caucus, Matsui is winning high marks for his performance under significantly changed campaign finance laws while Democrats face an uphill climb to regain the House. The veteran Member is credited with trimming back the DCCC overhead costs, increasing small-dollar donors and the direct-mail program, and seeking to add longevity to employment at the committee.

Democratic Caucus Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.) said: “He’s doing a great job and it would be great if he stayed.”

Chris Cillizza contributed to this report.

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