Election Day is five weeks away, and it remains to be seen which party will be defending majorities in the House and Senate in 2012, but there is growing speculation about who will lead the Congressional campaign efforts next cycle.
For Republicans, there appears to be a strong possibility that the current chairmen of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee will stay in those roles for another two years.
But it is unclear whom Democrats will tap to lead the House and Senate political efforts next cycle — which includes both a presidential race and Congressional redistricting.
Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, a former state party chairman, is an appealing choice to head the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. But the frontrunner is telling his colleagues to keep searching for another candidate.
“It’s not happening,” Warner Chief of Staff Luke Albee said. “Sen. Warner is a committed centrist who believes in working across party lines. He is not interested in the job.”
Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.), the current DSCC chairman, is up for re-election in 2012 and has ruled out serving another term. Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.), who led the Democratic takeover of the Senate and then expanded the party’s majority as DSCC chairman during the 2006 and 2008 cycles, does not want a third term. Several other appealing candidates, such as Sens. Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), have their own re-elections to worry about next cycle. That leaves just a handful of potential candidates to take on the job of defending the 22 Democratic-held seats that are up in 2012, and among those Warner is by far the top pick.
“I think Warner would be very good if he wanted to do it, if it made sense for him to do it,” Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) said. “He really is an all-star, we have several really good Senators in those younger two classes.”
The perfect candidate, one Democratic aide pointed out, would be a first-term Senator up for re-election this year, but there isn’t anyone who falls into that category. President Barack Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar were the only two Democrats first elected to the Senate in 2004, so the next viable class to choose from is the one that arrived after 2008. Sens. Mark Udall (Colo.) and Tom Udall (N.M.) have each been mentioned as potential DSCC chairmen. Sen. Al Franken (Minn.), a prolific fundraiser, and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), who was national chairwoman of Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) 2004 presidential campaign, are considered dark-horse options.
“I have not thought one minute about such a job,” Mark Udall said. “I’m really still a rookie here.”
Shaheen similarly demurred at the mention of her DSCC prospects. But it took three attempts to get Menendez to take on the role in late 2008, and as he pointed out, any of the top candidates will have to be similarly wooed.
“It has to be someone who is not in cycle and who has the time and wherewithal to be committed to it,” he said. “A very huge chunk of my time for the last two years has been committed to this. It takes that type of commitment.”
Cornyn Likely to Stay
For Democrats, the campaign chairman is chosen solely by the party’s leader. Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), assuming he wins his tough re-election battle, could make that choice sometime after the November elections.
On the GOP side, Conference members vote on their campaign chairman, and NRSC Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) is viewed as all but certain to be re-elected to the post. A number of colleagues, he said, have already asked that he do a second term.
“Continuity is important. One thing that has not operated well at the NRSC is the fact that when you have a new chairman every two years, you have to strip the place down to the concrete and rebuild,” he said. “It’s also a lot of work. So I’m thinking about it.”
Senators praise the Texan’s performance in closing the money gap with Democrats, particularly since Republicans no longer have a head fundraiser in the White House.
“I don’t think we can have anyone better than John Cornyn has been in this cycle,” Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) said. “If we can either persuade him to do it or find someone to do it as well as he’s done it, we’ll be a fortunate caucus.
Sessions’ Ambitions Unclear
On the House side, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is destined for a leadership shake-up as Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) has made it clear he has no interest in serving a third term.
But it’s less clear whether there will be turnover at the top of the NRCC. It all depends on whether Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) wants to move up the leadership ladder after Election Day.
Rumors have already cropped up in GOP circles that Sessions might have ambitions to become Majority Whip if, as many suspect, Republicans take the majority in November. It’s a leadership move that might be viewed as well-deserved if Sessions does engineer a 39-seat-plus gain for the GOP this fall. Sessions is also the second Republican in line on the House Rules Committee and could have his eye on leading that panel.
Sessions’ office declined an interview for this article.
“I think Pete will be able to write his own ticket if he has the kind of night I think he will,” former NRCC Chairman Tom Davis (Va.) said last week. However, “if Sessions wanted to go [another term at the NRCC], in a lot of ways that’s a money move because you’ve got the experience at the helm.”
Davis added that Sessions’ experience would be particularly helpful in guiding the committee through a complicated redistricting cycle over the next two years. There is also precedent for Sessions to run the committee two cycles in a row. Davis and former Rep. Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) served back-to-back terms.
One high-ranking GOP staffer said last week that giving Sessions a second term at the NRCC not only helps with continuity but also avoids a potential leadership battle for Majority Whip with Rep. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), who has also been mentioned for the job. Avoiding such battles might be appealing to Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio), who is expected to be the new Speaker under a Republican majority, because it would help the Republican Conference appear united.
“Knowing Boehner’s leadership style, he’s going to want to get this done very quickly with very little dissension,” the staffer said.
If Sessions chooses not to run again, McCarthy, who currently serves as the committee’s recruitment chairman, is viewed as a good fit. Deputy Chairman Greg Walden is also mentioned.
“Both McCarthy and Walden are battle-tested in their own way because Pete has been so good at opening up the committee … [and] making it a Member-driven committee,” Davis said. “The nice thing I like about Walden is he’s from Oregon. He understands competitive politics. … [But] McCarthy is also very gifted.”
The other GOP name that gets mentioned for the job is NRCC Finance Chairman Jeb Hensarling, who, like Sessions, hails from Texas — a state that is central to GOP fundraising.
Three-Way Race at DCCC
The slate of candidates interested in leading the DCCC has been set for well over a year, with Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), Steve Israel (N.Y.) and Joe Crowley (N.Y.) in the mix. The DCCC chairman is an appointed position, which means Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) — or whoever takes her place if Democrats lose the House and she steps down — has final say over who gets the job.
Former DCCC Chairman Martin Frost (Texas) said last week that Wasserman Schultz, Israel and Crowley have all “worked hard and shown an interest” in running the committee after Van Hollen.
All three currently hold leadership positions within the DCCC and, perhaps more importantly, come from key states when it comes to fundraising.
Crowley, who serves as vice chairman for finance at the committee, has a fundraising edge among the trio. He had contributed nearly $7.4 million to the DCCC this cycle as of the end of July, according to a recent DCCC dues sheet. Wasserman Schultz and Israel contributed about
$3.7 million and $1.6 million, respectively, over that same period.
But as vice chairwoman for incumbent retention, Wasserman Schultz has one of the most demanding jobs at the committee this cycle and has so far earned high marks from committee insiders. Israel serves as chairman of the DCCC recruitment efforts and earned praise for his efforts to help the committee win key special election victories this cycle.
But the current slate of candidates might be thrown into upheaval if Democrats lose the House. That could open the door for someone such as Rep. Mike Thompson (Calif.), who has been mentioned for the job in the past.
Assuming they win tough re-elections this cycle, committee insiders say Reps. Patrick Murphy (Pa.) and Christopher Murphy (Conn.) could be dark horses. Rep. Bruce Braley (Iowa) is also someone who has shown interest in the job.
Up-and-comers in the Democratic Caucus who aren’t necessarily viewed as candidates in 2010 but are seen as potential leaders of the committee further down the road are Reps. Allyson Schwartz (Pa.), John Yarmuth (Ky.) and Jared Polis (Colo.).