The two highest ranking Democrats in Congress will meet with Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (D) this afternoon to discuss who should become the next head of the Democratic National Committee, according to knowledgeable sources.
Incoming Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will sit down with the failed presidential candidate in hopes of picking an individual who possesses a strong understanding of the challenges facing them in 2006 and beyond. Current DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe will formally step down at the first full meeting of the organization in February.
“The day after the election, [the DNC chairmanship] was one of the first things on the agenda,” said one House leadership aide. “It is important to get somebody in the DNC that will fight for the House.”
Pelosi has also consulted with former President Bill Clinton about the next DNC chairman, according to knowledgeable Democrats.
“The Leader believes that it crucial that the new DNC chair be actively involved in House and Senate races in 2006,” said Pelosi Communications Director Brendan Daly.
Donna Brazile, former campaign manager for then Vice President Al Gore’s 2000 presidential bid and one of the leading candidates for the DNC post, said Pelosi and Reid should play a larger role than they have to this point in picking the chair.
“This is the second presidential election where the [top of the ticket] didn’t give them any wind,” said Brazile, who is a Roll Call contributing writer. “Pelosi and Reid should have more say in the process than someone looking at 2008.”
In interviews with a number of current and former party officials and strategists familiar with the selection process, no clear favorite has emerged from a pack of would-be candidates that grows by the day.
“Things are cooking on the stove but we haven’t hit crystallization,” said a Democratic strategist, who requested anonymity, about the selection process. “The field is open for somebody to step in and become the frontrunner.”
Names being floated run the gamut from high-level party operatives such as Brazile, New Democrat Network President Simon Rosenberg and America Coming Together official Harold Ickes, to elected officials including Govs. Mark Warner (Va.) and Tom Vilsack (Iowa) to former presidential candidate Howard Dean.
A number of minority candidates are also in the mix, including former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, who ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 2002, and former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb. Both are black.
The field is expected to winnow before the December meeting of the DNC’s executive committee in Orlando. A new chair will not be picked until February, however, when the full membership of the DNC meets for the first time since Kerry’s defeat.
What is clear at this point is that the eventual chair will likely be selected through a collaborative process involving several “power centers” within the party.
One high-level Democratic strategist broke down the factions as follows: Reid and Pelosi, organized labor, state chairmen, potential 2008 presidential contenders — particularly Kerry — and the duo of former President Bill Clinton and New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, whom the strategist called “the biggest gorillas on the block.”
Sen. Clinton is widely seen as the early favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination four years from now and her husband has become perhaps the most coveted campaign adviser in the party.
The key for the two Congressional leaders in having a seat at the table is to make a quick alliance with another power player, argued the strategist.
“Pelosi and Reid can have tremendous influence if they go and make a pact with [AFL-CIO President John] Sweeney and John Kerry and come up with a candidate,” said the source. “Their problem is they don’t have a candidate.”
With Democrats devastated by their losses up and down the ballot last Tuesday, many see the selection process for DNC chair as a symbolic fight for the future of the party.
“Given that we have new leaders in Congress and a very competitive primary field on the Democratic side, the choice of the chair really matters now,” said Rosenberg. “It will be a signal of who we are as a party.”
Others said that with the low-key Reid taking over for defeated South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle (D) and Pelosi still finding her footing with the media, the head of the DNC is likely to play a more prominent role on the message side than in cycles past.
“This chair is going to have more input into message because of the weakness of the two Congressional leaders we have,” said a party source. “They are not frontline message people.”