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Emanuel: A Two-Termer?

Almost a year into the job, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) is winning more than solid reviews for his oversight of the minority party’s efforts to retake the House in 2006.

But some observers are beginning to wonder whether Emanuel will be willing to take on another two-year cycle at the helm of the DCCC, which by all accounts is an exhausting, all-consuming position within the Democratic leadership. Emanuel has not made his plans public, but sources say his decision to stay on through 2008 rests largely on the outcome of next November’s election.

Emanuel’s spokesman at the DCCC, Bill Burton, said talk of the Illinois Democrat’s future leadership plans is premature.

“We are focused 150 percent on winning seats this cycle,” Burton said.

Sources indicate that Emanuel would be less inclined to stay in place if he achieves his goal of a Democratic majority or alternatively if the party fails to make gains this cycle. But sources speculate that if the party does well and inches closer to winning a majority in 2006, Emanuel would have a tough time stepping aside.

“We probably won’t have a good sense of who is going to be the next DCCC chairman until all of the electoral politics shake out,” said one Democratic leadership aide.

Another knowledgeable Democratic aide said if, as expected, Democrats pick up seats this cycle, Emanuel would face “excruciating pressure” from leadership and marginal Democrats to remain on board. This staffer added that external pressures aside, Emanuel would personally have a tough time relinquishing the post because he is extremely competitive and invested in Democratic victories.

“There’s no way he could walk away from it,” the aide suggested. “If for some reasons we don’t win back the House in ’06, this will be for a four-year deal” for Emanuel.

Given the possibility that Emanuel is in for only one cycle, speculation already is beginning to surface in Democratic Caucus circles about who would be willing and capable of succeeding him at the DCCC. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), who is charged with nominating the DCCC chairman to her Caucus, is said to be extremely impressed with Emanuel and all but certain to urge him to stay.

“She’s said more than once how pleased she is with the job he’s doing,” said one high-level Democratic aide.

But this staffer acknowledged that given the demands of the position, House leaders would not be taken aback if Emanuel is reluctant to sign up for four years. Emanuel also has a young family, and expressed concern when he initially took the job about taking time away from his children.

“It’s a grueling job,” the aide said. “It takes a lot of time and energy raising money and recruiting candidates. It’s a lot of work.”

Because of that, few DCCC chairmen in recent years have taken on more than one term. Former Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas) served two terms at the helm of the committee in the 1990s, but the most recent chairmen, Reps. Nita Lowey (N.Y.), Patrick Kennedy (R.I.) and the late Robert Matsui (Calif.), served just one cycle.

Matsui, whom Emanuel succeeded, died in January and was thus unable to serve another two-year term, although he earlier had signaled he was not interested in staying on the job.

Among those atop the list of possible successors to Emanuel — according to both Members and aides — are Democratic Reps. Artur Davis (Ala.), Chris Van Hollen (Md.), Mike Thompson (Calif.), Kendrick Meek (Fla.), Rosa DeLauro (Conn.) and Hilda Solis (Calif.).

Like Emanuel, Reps. Davis, Van Hollen and Meek are in their second terms and viewed widely as rising Caucus stars with solid political know-how. Van Hollen is spearheading Democratic candidate recruitment this cycle, while Davis is a regional recruitment chairman and Meek is a committee vice chairman.

Davis said he’s “given no thought” to chairing the DCCC or taking up another leadership slot, adding that he believes Emanuel “is the best chair we’ve had.”

“I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about leadership goals,” Davis said. “Clearly there are a lot of people here who have been here a lot longer than I have. I’m focused on being a good, committed Member.”

Van Hollen, who entertained running for his state’s open Senate seat earlier this year, said he’d like to “draft Rahm for another term.”

“It’s way too early to be thinking about this,” he said.

DeLauro, Solis and Thompson are all close Pelosi allies and considered future leadership material. Solis is a regional recruitment chairwoman of the DCCC, and Thompson, who has been mentioned for the committee job in the past, is now in charge of the Frontline program to raise money for the party’s most threatened incumbents.

In an interview, Thompson insisted he has no designs on the DCCC but said he has “always done what the chair of the DCCC and the leader have asked of me” and will continue to do so.

“I am always anxious to help,” Thompson said.

In addition to those Members, any of the current candidates for vice chairman of the Caucus also could be considered if unsuccessful in their current bids, sources say. Reps. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), John Larson (Conn.) and Jan Schakowsky (Ill.) are seeking the No. 4 leadership post.

Crowley and Schakowsky have been mentioned as possible DCCC chairmen in the past and currently hold leadership posts at the committee. Crowley heads the DCCC business outreach program, while Schakowsky is in charge of outreach to women donors.

Whomever is chosen, Emanuel’s successor — whether in 2007 or 2009 — will have big shoes to fill.

Emanuel, a former senior Clinton White House official, is viewed as a master of Democratic political strategy, and in his short tenure at the DCCC already has installed a more aggressive and forceful Democratic approach to party politics. He also has won a reputation for bolstering candidate recruitment, raising money and encouraging greater Member involvement and contributions to the party.

“Members may get frustrated with him, but they all respect him,” said a Democratic strategist. “They know what he’s doing is right and the widely held view is he’s the best DCCC chair we’ve had since [Former Rep.] Tony Coelho [D-Calif.].”