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Vice Chair Candidates Don’t Waste Any Time

As the massive, behind-the-scenes jockeying for the Democratic Caucus vice chairmanship gets under way, the candidates are carving out their strategies based on the reality that the race will be tight and they will likely face a series of runoffs to secure victory.

The election for the leadership post is at least one year, and perhaps two years, away. But the four candidates are treating the race as if the ballots will be cast in a few weeks, knowing they must win as many commitments for votes as early as possible.

“You don’t want to waste any time right now,” noted one senior Democratic staffer experienced in leadership races.

Reps. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), Rubén Hinojosa (Texas), John Larson (Conn.) and Jan Schakowsky (Ill.) are the candidates in the bidding. They are largely keeping quiet about publicly naming their early commitments with the exception of Crowley, who has announced his five-person whip team and named 11 other supporters from different Caucus sectors.

Crowley’s whips are Reps. Nita Lowey (N.Y.), Artur Davis (Ala.), Steve Israel (N.Y.), Al Green (Texas) and Jose Serrano (N.Y.). He is also claiming Reps. Peter DeFazio (Ore.), Alcee Hastings (Fla.), Kendrick Meek (Fla.), Jim Cooper (Tenn.), Adam Smith (Wash.), Barney Frank (Mass.), Neil Abercrombie (Hawaii), Bart Gordon (Tenn.), Dennis Moore (Kan.), Dan Boren (Okla.) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (Calif.).

Schakowsky will name her chairman and co-chairman next week, with the the rest of her whip team to follow. Larson plans to announce his campaign chairmen and whip today, while Hinojosa will unveil his team in the coming weeks.

Sources said those teams and early supporters are critical to the foundation of the Members’ campaigns. Aides suggested the candidates are each trying to shore up a base of about 15 to 20 solid backers to meet with on a regular basis regarding organization, strategy and vote gathering.

“It’s important to make sure you hold on to your friends,” said one well-placed Democratic staffer. “These people are expected to keep you informed and help you. As time goes on you need independent validation. These are their eyes and ears all over the floor.”

Beyond setting up a foundation of support, the four Members have been furiously working over the rest of their colleagues, hoping to get as many early commitments as possible. As part of that, the four hopefuls are preparing for a likely runoff ballot and asking to be the second or third pick to those lawmakers who are supporting another candidate for the vice chairmanship.

“Right now these guys are making phone calls, talking to Members on the floor, requesting meetings, inviting Members to dinner, putting together whip teams and adding names to their lists,” said one leadership aide. “This is all a game of strategy.”

Said another source: “This is the time we live in. You’ve got to get in and get your people locked in early.”

One Democratic lawmaker, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said a runoff is “almost guaranteed” if all four stay in the race. This Member said assuredly: “No one is going to get 50 plus one of the vote.”

Sources throughout the Caucus say it’s difficult to handicap a race that is so far away, noting that all four candidates are well liked, experienced and play to different strengths. Larson, Schakowsky and Crowley all are four-term Members, while Hinojosa is in his fifth.

When it comes to fundraising and giving, all four have shown a share of party loyalty. Crowley led the pack in direct contributions to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last cycle, giving $215,000, followed by Larson with $175,000, Schakowsky with $170,000 and Hinojosa with $75,000.

Crowley and Schakowsky both have leadership political action committees, called Jobs, Opportunities and Education PAC and Progressive Choices, respectively. Leadership PACs are often used by those with leadership ambitions to raise and give money to candidates.

“All four of them are really affable Members,” said one Democratic aide. “They all have their core support and their politics. They all work well with Members. That’s what will make this a close race.”

“This could come down to three or five or 10 votes,” suggested another staffer.

Add to that the fact that the only real way to know your supporters is if they agree to go public with their names, said one prominent Democratic Member. Because of that, this lawmaker said, the candidates and their proxies will over the course of the next two years double check the list of their private supporters.

“Ultimately, that’s the only way to know a hard commitment,” the Member said. “A lot of people just tell people everything you want to hear.”

Because Crowley and Schakowsky were the first out of the gate, sources speculate they have a small leg up in terms of collecting commitments. Beyond that, however, the candidates are counting on the support of their state delegations — an advantage for Crowley who has 20 Democrats, compared to Hinojosa with 11, Schakowsky with 10 and Larson with two.

Sources said Schakowsky — personally tight with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) — has strong appeal with women, the Congressional Black Caucus and the liberal base of the full Democratic Caucus. She is also expected to tap into her Energy and Commerce Committee colleagues for support.

Larson, also close to Pelosi, will be Schakowsky’s greatest competition among the Minority Leader’s friends and liberal lawmakers. Larson, a member of the New Democrat Coalition, should also draw from other New England Members, including those from Massachusetts, and will play to his two years of Member services work as the ranking member of the House Administration Committee.

Hinojosa should draw from Texans, as well as many Hispanics who want to keep Latino representation in leadership. He may also play to other minority Members insisting on diversity in the upper ranks, sources suggested.

Beyond the 20 New York Democrats, Crowley should win backers from other parts of the region including the New Jersey delegation, many Blue Dogs and New Democrats, and his allies on the Financial Services Committee. Crowley also has close ties to Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.).

While Hoyer and Pelosi may have personal friendships at stake in the race, their aides say they do not plan to publicly endorse any candidate. And several sources said even if the two did get involved, it would not make or break the outcome of the race.

“If they choose to, they can be influential, but not determinative,” said one veteran lawmaker.

Another senior Democratic staffer with leadership race experience said: “Pelosi and Hoyer have influence amongst their own camps, but if their own camps are lining up with the natural candidates there, then what kind of influence is really there?”

Members privately and publicly acknowledge they are being inundated with requests for support from all campaigns. Many aren’t ready to commit given the race has just begun, and sources said that without a doubt Members have verbally overcommitted.

Rep. Grace Napolitano (Calif.), chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said all four are “excellent” candidates.

“Right now I am open,” she said.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), immediate past chairman of the CBC, characterized those in the race as “good people” and “strong candidates.” His vote will go to the Member who has consistently fought for minority rights, is loyal to the party and brings diversity to the leadership.

“I think people should be very slow to make commitments,” Cummings said.

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