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Van Hollen Named Chairman of Senate Democrats‘ Campaign Arm

Incoming Maryland freshman faces daunting 2018 electoral map for party

Maryland Senate candidate Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., greets guests after speaking at Leisure World retirement community in Silver Spring, Md., October 13, 2016. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Maryland Senate candidate Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., greets guests after speaking at Leisure World retirement community in Silver Spring, Md., October 13, 2016. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sen.-elect Chris Van Hollen of Maryland will chair the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for the 2018 cycle, incoming Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer announced Friday.

Chris Van Hollen was our first choice for DSCC chairman because of his talents, his work ethic, and his experience,” Schumer said in a statement. “He has the confidence of our caucus and will do a great job for our candidates running in 2018. The map is tough for Democrats, but I have no doubt that Sen.-elect Van Hollen is up to the task.” 

“Tough” is one word to describe what Senate Democrats face in 2018. The party will have 23 seats to defend, as well as two seats held by independents who caucus with the Democrats. By comparison, Republicans will only be defending eight seats. 

Ten of the states where Democrats will be up for re-election were won by Donald Trump in this year’s presidential election, including Montana, represented by outgoing DSCC Chairman Jon Tester.

Van Hollen, 57, said he is honored to have the support of his Senate caucus to lead the party’s campaign efforts for in 2018. He will be one of 11 members of an expanded Democratic leadership team serving in the 115th Congress. 

[Schumer Expands Leadership Team]

“Democrats in the Senate are the last line of defense between President-elect Trump and Washington Republicans, and so many of the values and priorities that Americans hold dear,” Van Hollen said in a statement. “I look forward to getting to work right away to defend American values.”

Van Hollen, a seven-term congressman, won election to the open Maryland Senate seat last week to succeed retiring longtime Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski

Before the DSCC announcement was made, Van Hollen discussed the possibility of leading the group on WAMU’s “The Kojo Nnamdi Show” on Friday, and acknowledged that Democrats have a difficult task in 2018.

“Obviously, we have a lot of senators who are up in the next election,” Van Hollen said. “So, it’s going to be absolutely essential that those senators are protected so that the American people are protected from many of the proposals we’ve seen coming forward from both the Trump administration as well as House and Senate Republicans.”

[Senate Democrats’ Challenge in 2018: The White Working Class]

“So, I’m going to do everything I can to support that effort in what form it takes,” the Maryland Democrat said. 

The difficult 2018 terrain had few Democratic senators willing to take the job.

“There’s not a long line of volunteers to head up the [DSCC], even when it looks like it’s going to be a great year for us,” Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin said Wednesday. The Illinois Democrat pointed to fundraising tasks that can be draining.

“There are only a handful who enjoy getting on the phone call, looking for money,” Durbin said. “Most of them have already done this job. The rest of us grit our teeth when we have to do it. But doing this for two straight years is a big ask.”

But the job will be familiar to Van Hollen, who ran the Democrats’ campaign operation on House side of the Capitol. He was chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2008, a banner year for the party, and again in 2010, when Democrats lost control of the House.

Van Hollen also revealed that he will serve on the Senate Appropriations Committee, in what some see as a reward for him taking the difficult DSCC job. He is the current ranking member on the House Budget Committee and one of Democrats’ leading voices on fiscal issues. 

[Senate Democrats, 2018 Math Is Not Your Friend]

He will fill the Appropriations seat that Mikulski, the panel’s ranking member, is vacating. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont will serve as ranking Democrat on Appropriations in the 115th Congress. 

The senator-elect said earlier Friday that he had been “trying very hard” to get a seat on the committee, noting that Mikulski was effective in ensuring federal investment in the state.

Van Hollen told “The Kojo Nnamdi Show” that getting a seat on Appropriations would be “very difficult,” as there was only one opening and a number of returning senators were also interested.

“Whether I’m on the committee or not, we’re going to work hard to make sure those investments continue,” Van Hollen said.

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