Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had limited options over the past two cycles as he recruited a chairman to lead the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. But 2016 is likely to be different.
After two straight cycles of defending twice as many seats as Republicans, the tables will soon turn as the Republican class of 2010 faces re-election. The next cycle will also feature presidential turnout, which could benefit Democrats as they either cling to a small majority or, more likely , push to regain control — depending on what happens over the next few months.
Beyond the benefit of a more favorable map than in 2012 and 2014, with fewer incumbents up in 2016 Reid will simply have a larger pool of applicants to choose from. And there should be several willing candidates among the numerous names currently being mentioned. Among those regularly included in chatter about next cycle are Sens. Chris Coons of Delaware, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, though their respective levels of interest likely vary. Others who could be in the mix are Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Sherrod Brown of Ohio.
Another is Montana Sen. Jon Tester, who one Democratic operative said is “really, really angling for it.” A source close to Tester wouldn’t go that far, but confirmed he is interested in chairing the DSCC next cycle.
With a farm to run back home and another re-election in a Republican-leaning state coming in 2018, Tester isn’t an obvious candidate for the job. But supporters note he’s politically astute and has party leadership experience. As state Senate minority leader in 2004, he oversaw the state party’s efforts in picking up Senate seats and winning the majority, and was elected president of the body the following year.
Becoming chairman can offer other benefits. Washington Sen. Patty Murray was named chairwoman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee shortly after agreeing to chair the DSCC for the 2012 cycle. Current DSCC Chairman Michael Bennet landed a coveted Finance Committee seat.
Of course, a major portion of the job is fundraising, which will undoubtedly play into Reid’s decision and could give senators with geographical fundraising bases like Coons and Gillibrand an edge.
Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine’s experience and connections as a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee would make him an obvious target, but with other priorities and a re-election bid in a swing state right around the corner in the 2018 midterms, he is not pursuing the position.
There is still much up in the air that could affect Reid’s choice, not the least of which is control of the Senate in the next Congress. But the next chairman may be named before the majority is decided, with a possible runoff in Georgia scheduled for Jan. 6.
One of the highest priority races next cycle will be Reid’s own re-election. He was a top target in 2010, but held on against Republican Sharron Angle. He’ll again be a focus for national Republicans, with Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval a potential top-tier recruit.
Beyond the next chairman, Senate Democrats will also be in search of a new executive director. Guy Cecil, who ran Hillary Rodham Clinton’s field operation in 2008, has led the committee for the past two cycles and is not expected to return for 2016.
One obvious replacement is Matt Canter, a former Gillibrand aide and the current deputy executive director at the DSCC. He has served under Cecil for two cycles, is well-respected and could stick around for another election if asked to lead the committee.
Another top pick might be Martha McKenna, who has led the DSCC independent expenditure program the last two cycles and previously served as the political director in 2008 and 2010.
Several operatives will likely be in the mix, but the next chairman could affect the choice.
For example, Tester’s re-election bid last cycle was run by Preston Elliott, a Montana native who directed the coordinated campaign for Reid’s 2010 campaign, served as the DSCC’s deputy political director in 2008 and is currently winning accolades for his management of North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan’s campaign.
Tester chief of staff Tom Lopach could also be in the mix for that position if the Montana senator were chosen. Lopach, also from Montana, took over as Tester’s top aide in 2010 following Stephanie Schriock’s move to serve as President of EMILY’s List.
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