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Committees Slow to Name Leaders

2010 Election Cycle Stalled

Updated: 10:10 a.m. Nov. 10, 2008

With the 2010 election cycle nearly a week old, Congressional Democrats and Republicans are still sorting out who will run their respective campaign committees for President-elect Obama’s first midterm year, although House Democrats over the weekend solidified the leadership of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee by re-enlisting the current chairman, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.).

Van Hollen had announced last week that he would not seek a second term running the DCCC. But Democratic sources confirmed Monday morning that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) prevailed on Van Hollen to reconsider and accept another two years at the helm.

In the Senate, there remains some minor drama surrounding who will lead the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee in the next cycle. The Senate map suggests Democrats could once again be on the offensive, just as they were the past two cycles.

On the Republican side, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) is running for a second term despite losing about 20 seats last week. But Rep. Pete Sessions (Texas), who is also running for the post, has received strong public backing from Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio).

Boehner’s bid to remain as House GOP leader has yet to attract a challenger. Republican sources say that other heavyweights within the House Republican Conference also are backing Sessions, with announcements from some of them due in advance of next week’s leadership elections.

“Having Boehner’s support helps Pete because the Conference wants people who can work together better, and the Cole-Boehner division was a major distraction,” said one Republican Congressional aide whose boss supports Sessions. “But Cole definitely has some support.”

Last cycle, Boehner and Cole clashed over political tactics and the relative weakness of the committee’s fundraising.

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, were supposed to have a choice about who would lead the NRSC in 2010, despite the fact they will command a smaller minority than they did these past two years. Both Sen. John Cornyn (Texas) and Sen. Norm Coleman (Minn.) have expressed interest in the NRSC chairmanship in recent months.

Coleman’s situation, however, is complicated. He led his opponent, comedian Al Franken (D), by a few hundred votes on Friday as Minnesota prepares for a mandatory recount scheduled to end on Dec. 5 — more than two weeks after the Nov. 18 leadership election.

The Minnesota Republican has not confirmed he is running for NRSC chairman, and neither his campaign nor his Senate office responded to a request for comment Friday. Coleman lost a bid for the chairmanship in 2004 and has since expressed interest in running the committee.

When asked about a prospective race against Coleman, Cornyn’s Senate spokesman Brian Walsh would say only that his boss “is running.”

In the House, strategic changes are pending in how the DCCC and NRCC campaign based on the new reality of a large Democratic majority.

After two straight cycles in which House Democrats were on the offensive as they built — and then expanded — their majority, the DCCC is preparing to become more of an incumbent-protection operation.

Meanwhile, the NRCC, which spent 2006 attempting to defend its majority and 2008 defending against a second consecutive Democratic wave, is gearing up to go on offense against a Democratic president, after essentially falling about as low as possible given the partisanship of the current House district map.

“We turn into an incumbent-protection committee next cycle,” one Democratic strategist said. “There’s not that many opportunities left.”

Cole announced he was running for re-election as NRCC chairman on the morning after Election Day and is selling his candidacy on the grounds that in losing about 20 seats, including ousting four Democratic incumbents, he beat the expectations of prognosticators who predicted that net losses could go as high as 40.

Cole is also making the case that his efforts were hamstrung by problems not of his making, including an $18 million debt from the 2006 cycle, an embezzlement scandal revolving around former NRCC Treasurer Christopher Ward, and a toxic political atmosphere for Republicans that got even worse just one month before the election as the economy went into a free fall.

According to a Republican source with knowledge of Sessions’ plans for the NRCC, the Texan would run the committee under a different strategic framework than Cole. Any changes Sessions would make would not necessarily be meant as a reaction to the current leadership, but would instead be considered innovations, the insider said.

Sessions is expected to send a letter to his colleagues this week outlining his plans for the NRCC, this GOP source said.

Chief among the changes Sessions would make is in recruiting. He believes the recruitment of candidates must include working behind the scenes to clear a primary field for the national party’s preferred candidate, and letting local Republicans know that the committee will not invest in a race if its favored candidate doesn’t emerge with the nomination.

Cole this cycle declined to involve himself in primaries at this elevated level, though he has probably received the most flak on the fundraising front. Here, Sessions would look to emulate the DCCC, which creates programs such as “Red to Blue” and “Frontline” to signal to its donors the candidates it would like them to direct their money to.

Sessions would also like to build a network of regional fundraisers who focus on raising money outside of Washington, D.C. The GOP source familiar with Sessions’ plans said House Republicans typically parachute into a region for one fundraiser, and then leave without really scratching the surface of the available financial support.

“Fundraising [this cycle] was lackluster, and it wasn’t only because of the year,” this Republican said. “One of the things the Democrats are successful at is broadcasting the candidates they support. We need to do more of the same instead of keeping it a secret.”

One Cole loyalist who works off of Capitol Hill said NRCC chairmen have traditionally been elected to two terms, and the individual believes the Oklahoman has earned another two years at the helm.

This Cole ally said the chairman’s supporters could include his colleagues on the Armed Services and Natural Resources committees, as well as Reps. Roy Blunt (Mo.) and Adam Putnam (Fla.), who are stepping down from their positions as Minority Whip and Republican Conference chairman, respectively.

However, the Congressional aide whose boss is supporting Sessions said several Members who voted for Cole last time are not happy with the results of last week’s elections, and will vote for Sessions this time around. In 2006, Cole won the NRCC chairmanship over Sessions on the second ballot after Rep. Phil English (Pa.) dropped out of the running.

Cole’s allies are optimistic, downplaying the grumbling over his stewardship of the NRCC that surfaced last cycle while also claiming that Boehner’s endorsement carries less influence than is assumed.

“He can win because of what he’s been able to accomplish,” the Cole loyalist said. “He made lemonade out of lemons.”

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, are playing the waiting game.

Current DSCC Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) has not revealed whether he would serve an unprecedented third term at the committee. Schumer is up for re-election in 2010, though Empire State Republicans are not expected to target him.

Through a spokesman, Schumer declined to comment on the matter. But Democratic sources say it’s unlikely he would run simultaneously for re-election and continue as DSCC chairman.

Most speculation about the next chairman surrounds Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.), but the appointment is far from a done deal. Menendez spokesman Afshin Mohamadi would not comment on the Senator’s intentions for the DSCC job, but Senate Democratic sources say Menendez is waiting for word from Schumer before he announces anything.

The decision is in the hands of Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Unlike the Republican caucus, the Democratic Majority Leader appoints the DSCC chairman without any official input from his colleagues.

Reid spokesman Jim Manley would not comment Friday on when the Majority Leader would announce the DSCC appointment or whom he prefers to take the position. Reid is also up for re-election in 2010, and Republicans are expected to target his race, so whomever he chooses for DSCC chairman could heavily affect his political future.

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