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Democrats Jockeying to Run DCCC in 2016

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The hours are punishing, the travel is relentless and sometimes — no matter how politically shrewd or hardworking a person is — he or she can completely fail on the national stage by nearly no fault of their own.  

So who would want to run a House campaign committee, again?  

Quite a few Democrats. One of the most intense guessing games currently in the caucus is who will serve as the next chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.  

“If you are looking to get a seat at the table, and right now no one is getting up, then the DCCC post might be the only opening,” former DCCC spokesman Doug Thornell said. “It’s probably the toughest, most thankless job in leadership. But if you excel, a lot of doors open.”  

The position offers an opportunity to win the loyalty of incoming freshman that can translate into support for a future House leadership bid.  

But more importantly, Democrats bet that next cycle — 2016 —  will be a good one, thanks to improved party performance in presidential years and the possibility of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on the top of the ticket.  

Dozens of plugged-in Democratic operatives weighed in to CQ Roll Call on likely contenders. But the caucus leader, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, will make the final selection. And if Pelosi is no longer in leadership, the race for DCCC chairman could completely change.  

To compare, House Republicans elected their campaign committee chairman. Insiders say the current National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden of Oregon will stay for a second term .  

Here’s a rundown of the likely candidates for the Democratic field: Rep. Jim Himes, Connecticut Capitol Hill Democrats characterize Himes as the most likely bet for chairman in 2016 and, as one put it, “the safest choice.” He is the current national finance chairman of the committee.  

A former Goldman Sachs banker, Himes hails from Connecticut’s 4th District, which includes the wealthy suburbs of New York City. Democratic operatives on Capitol Hill praise his political instincts and say he has sufficiently met financial expectations in his current role at the committee.  

Rep. Jared Polis, Colorado Democrats mention Polis as as contender for the DCCC spot as often as Himes. And the DCCC’s chairman of candidate services is “definitely interested” in the job, according to a Polis source. Polis is a strong fundraiser, and Democrats bet he could deliver serious money from the gay and technology communities.  

“It would complete Pelosi’s legacy to appoint the first openly gay chair of the DCCC,” a House Democratic operative said.  

He also has geography — the west and southwest — in his favor. As Democrats look for future gains,  staffers say Polis helped turn Colorado in the party’s favor, and they hope those efforts can translate in Arizona, Nevada and elsewhere.  

A drawback for Polis? Some say privately that he’s not the most disciplined member when it comes to party messaging.  

Rep. Donna Edwards, Maryland Democrats are quick to compliment Edwards’ efforts this cycle as the committee’s chairwoman for recruitment, especially her success with female candidates. In a sign of confidence, Israel recently named her as the Red to Blue program chairwoman .  

Democrats add she is proactive in that position, and she understands how the committee works. What’s more, labor and progressive groups would be pleased with Edwards at the helm.  

Like Polis, she benefits from geography, but in a different way. Her 4th District includes the Washington, D.C., suburbs. At least one operative noted that she, like former DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., would not have to spend a day or two a week traveling back to the home district.  

She would also be the first black member to lead the DCCC, as well as the first woman in that role since Rep. Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., ran the committee in 2002.  

There’s one big hang-up for Edwards: In nearly every conversation about her candidacy, Democrats expressed concern about her fundraising skills. The DCCC’s March dues sheet showed she fell far short in most of the fundraising benchmarks set for her. However, she does stand out as a strong fundraiser for Frontline members, the most endangered pols in the caucus.  

Current DCCC Chairman Steve Israel, New York It’s rare for a DCCC chairman to serve more than two terms. The last DCCC chairman to stay for more than four years was Rep. Tony Coelho of California in the 1980s. And the party committees have overhauled their operation and structure several times since then.  

Israel has made it clear he does not want to do a third tour of duty on Ivy Street, but high-level Democratic sources on Capitol Hill suggest he could be cajoled. Democrats praised his tenure as chairman and characterized his two terms as making the best of a terrible map for the party.  

To complicate matters for Israel, there is no obvious place for him to land at the leadership table after this cycle.  

“If I were him, I would do it,” one senior Hill Democratic aide said of a third Israel term.  

Rep. Joseph Crowley, New York Crowley’s name is frequently mentioned as a contender, but he hasn’t publicly or obviously expressed interest in the post.  

He is already the vice chairman of the caucus, but Democrats speculate that the DCCC chairman gig is a prime opportunity for him to win loyalties among the freshmen. Similarly, Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, D-Calif.,  is also frequently floated as a possibility with the same logic. They also mention Frontline Program Chairman Tim Walz, D-Minn., as a potential dark horse contender.  

This story marks the second in a series about which members will potentially run the congressional campaign committees in future cycles.