Hopeful Democrats Eye Leadership Bids

Posted July 9, 2012 at 6:08pm

House Democrats are focused on taking back the majority, and though that might be improbable, the ambitious lawmakers helping the party most are also building their own personal networks for potential leadership bids next Congress.

Because of rules term-limiting Caucus chairmen and vice chairmen, Democrats are in the market for at least two new, or elevated, leadership team members. And while no one has publicly declared his or her intent to run for the open spots, behind the scenes, Members are quietly ginning up support from their colleagues and opening up their checkbooks in the hope that it will help them forge alliances for leadership elections this fall.

The four people most mentioned to make upward moves through the Democratic Party structure — Reps. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), Joe Crowley (N.Y.), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) and Chris Van Hollen (Md.) — have raised nearly $1.4 million in the 2012 cycle so far, according to an analysis based on numbers from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Becerra is currently the Caucus vice chairman and is interested in moving up to the chairman spot being vacated by Rep. John Larson (Conn.), according to multiple sources familiar with party politics.

Crowley, the head of the more moderate, pro-growth New Democrats, is mulling a run for vice chairman, per those same sources.

Also in the leadership mix are the familiar names of Wasserman Schultz, the current Democratic National Committee chairwoman, and Van Hollen, the former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman. But it’s unclear where they would fit in the already-crowded leadership structure, especially if Democrats don’t win back the House.

Crowley, who lost a heated, three-way race for vice chairman to Larson in 2006, has long held leadership ambitions, but Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) has viewed him skeptically since he backed Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) over her in their 2001 Whip race. Crowley also has repeatedly offered to head up the DCCC, but Pelosi has consistently rebuffed him, according to one source.

Indeed, Pelosi is likely to remain a deciding force in any and all leadership races this year, given her penchant for wanting to surround herself with as many loyalists as possible.

Still, Crowley’s personal leadership political action committee, Jobs Opportunities and Education PAC, has raised and spent more this cycle through June than Wasserman Schultz’s Democrats Win Seats PAC.

JOE-PAC has doled out more than $453,000 to 86 House Democrats and $9,000 to Senate Democratic campaigns, including to the Senate war chest of Rep. Shelley Berkley (Nev.).

Wasserman Schultz is no slouch, having raised approximately $420,000 and spent $220,000 through June, in addition to her fundraising duties as DNC chairwoman. But for someone who is not as high-profile as Wasserman Schultz — who travels across the country for candidates at all levels and is a fixture on television — Crowley is certainly casting a wide net across the Caucus. He was a significant player during the Wall Street reform debate in 2010, with connections to the finance community in his home state, and  he has become one of the most outspoken supporters of Democratic initiatives, especially the Affordable Care Act, from his seat on the Ways and Means Committee, according to House Democratic sources.

Though multiple sources say Crowley likely will run, he probably won’t make any sort of public announcement until after the elections.

“Congressman Crowley’s focus right now is on helping Leader Pelosi and DCCC Chairman Steve Israel win back the majority, and he’s working hard to make that a reality,” an aide to Crowley said.

Becerra’s race for Caucus chairman is anticipated to be as drama-free as these sorts of intraparty affairs get. He is well-liked by colleagues and has been attentive to Member services in his time as vice chairman, sources say. In the past few weeks, Democratic aides unaffiliated with his office say Becerra has kicked up his efforts to build support for his leadership bid. Becerra’s PAC, Leadership of Today & Tomorrow, has raised $234,882 and spent $145,851 on Democratic races through June.

Outside of the set Caucus races, the picture is a lot more complicated.

What happens to Larson, a close ally of Pelosi, is unclear, but he appears interested in remaining in leadership in some capacity. When Democrats were in the majority, the position “assistant to the Speaker” existed and Van Hollen filled it. But that post may be difficult to reinstitute given the “Assistant Leader” role created for Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.). Pelosi gave Clyburn the post after the 2010 elections. The move defused a tense situation in which Clyburn and Hoyer appeared close to challenging each other for the Whip position after leadership slots were reduced in response to the loss of the majority. There is a set budget for leadership offices and staff, and some sources suggested there wouldn’t be enough funds to create another new position if Democrats stay in the minority.

Another potential hitch is that the Caucus still has to vote on the choice for Assistant Leader, which means a Member could decide to challenge Clyburn for the position.