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DNC Hopefuls Turn to Lawmakers

With the contest to succeed outgoing Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe still muddled, contenders are using their connections within Congress to round up endorsements as they attempt to build momentum for the February vote.

Although much of the jockeying for Congressional endorsements has been conducted behind the scenes, the process is expected to become more public later this week when former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean formally enters the race.

Dean, who will enter the contest as its frontrunner, is expected to enjoy the support of a number of influential elected officials with his announcement.

That group is likely to include Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. (Ill.), Mike Honda (Calif.), Neil Abercrombie (Hawaii), Jan Schakowsky (Ill.), John Murtha (Pa.) and Zoe Lofgren (Calif.), among others.

Schakowsky’s communications director, Nadeam Elshami, said that Dean and Schakowsky have spoken about the race and “the strategy will become clearer in the upcoming days.”

Not to be outdone, several other contenders for the chairmanship are touting their support within the House, most notably former Texas Rep. Martin Frost and New Democratic Network President Simon Rosenberg.

Frost has lined up an impressive slate of Members led by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), who has been making calls to DNC members and other elected officials soliciting support for Frost.

Hoyer served as the House’s liaison to the DNC in the mid-1990s and as a result has stronger relations with members of the organization than would a typical Member, according to Frost allies.

Frost also is being supported by several Congressional Black Caucus members including Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson (Texas), David Scott (Ga.), Edolphus Towns (N.Y.) and Bobby Rush (Ill.) as well as Nydia Velázquez (N.Y.), a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Rosenberg formally announced for the race Thursday and quickly released a list of Congressional supporters that included Reps. Ben Chandler (Ky.), Artur Davis (Ala.), Loretta Sanchez (Calif.) and Adam Smith (Wash.). He also enjoys ties to dozens of Congressional Democrats through fundraising and political efforts made as head of the NDN.

“I wanted to send a very clear signal that I had support from all over this country,” said Rosenberg in an interview Friday. “All of these Members have won tough races in tough regions of the country.”

Former Indiana Rep. Tim Roemer has been urged to consider the race by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) but remains undecided. Both leaders are quick to emphasize they have not officially endorsed Roemer, however.

Dean, Frost, Rosenberg and Roemer as well as former Michigan Gov. Jim Blanchard, party operative Donnie Fowler, former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, former Texas state party chairwoman Molly Beth Malcolm and former Ohio state party chairman David Leland were scheduled to attend the first of four DNC regional conferences in Atlanta on Saturday.

The DNC will also convene meetings in St. Louis on Jan. 15, Sacramento on Jan. 22 and New York City on Jan. 29.

The 447 voting members of the DNC will select a successor to Terry McAuliffe during the organization’s winter meeting in Washington, D.C., from Feb. 10-12.

The scramble for Congressional support resembles nothing so much as the early days of 2004 when would-be Democratic presidential candidates courted House Members prior to the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

Unlike the presidential race, however, the support of Members is largely symbolic in the DNC contest.

While Members are superdelegates (meaning they are unpledged delegates in the nominating process at the party’s national convention) in the presidential race, only a handful are DNC members and therefore allowed to vote for the next chairman.

The support of Members does lend credibility to a DNC bid and can also aid a candidate in rounding up support in a specific geographic or ideological bloc of delegates.

“Members can be very worthwhile surrogates and supporters because a lot of them are involved in their states’ politics,” said Tom Eisenhauer, a spokesman for Frost.

Rounding up significant support from Washington, however, could be a mixed blessing as many DNC voters have expressed an interest in bringing in new leaders without such strong ties to the nation’s capital.

Coming off his unsuccessful bid for the presidency last year, Dean has considerable strength among the party’s more liberal wing, which may be enough to deliver him the post.

Laura Gross, a spokeswoman for Dean’s Democracy for America group, said that the support the governor enjoys from Members “proves that he has a broad appeal to Democrats of all stripes.”

Even so, the most likely scenario in the chair fight is that a candidate emerges from the pack as the anti-Dean, backed tacitly by many of the party poobahs still wary of the former governor following his meltdown in the Iowa caucuses last year.

Frost’s backers hope his laundry list of supporters — inside Congress and out — as well as his past experience as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will allow him to emerge as the alternative candidate to Dean.