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Bustos’ exit opens up race for DCCC chair

Cárdenas, Maloney vying to lead party’s House campaign arm

California Rep. Tony Cárdenas is running for DCCC chairman.
California Rep. Tony Cárdenas is running for DCCC chairman. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos’ announcement Monday that she will not to seek another term as head of the House Democrats’ campaign arm has opened up a race for the position, with at least two lawmakers already in the running. 

California’s Tony Cárdenas and New York’s Sean Patrick Maloney are competing to chair the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a source familiar with their announcements confirmed to CQ Roll Call. Texas Rep. Marc Veasey has also been mentioned as a potential candidate for the position. His office did not respond to a request for comment.

The election for the next DCCC chair comes as the party is divided over what lessons to draw from a disappointing 2020 election. While apparently keeping the majority, Democrats had expected to add seats and instead saw at least seven incumbents lose, while 24 races remain uncalled Monday evening.

Whoever wins the position will likely face a challenging midterm election in 2022 with President-elect Joe Biden in the White House. The president’s party typically loses House seats in the first midterm of an administration.

“The upcoming midterm elections will not be easy and I won’t sugarcoat the truth — it will be a hell of a fight — but families in all corners of America are counting on us to win again in two years and I refuse to let them or this Caucus down,” Cárdenas said in a Monday letter to fellow Democrats.

Cárdenas chaired BOLD PAC, the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, during the 2020 cycle. The group spent nearly $12.2 million this cycle supporting Latino candidates for Congress as well as non-Latino candidates the group endorsed. 

Cárdenas, who is abandoning his bid for assistant speaker to run for the lower-ranking DCCC post, has already won support from one lawmaker in a swing district. Rep. Susan Wild, who recently won reelection in Pennsylvania’s 7th District, tweeted Monday that Cárdenas had her “full support” due to his work with the Hispanic Caucus. 

Maloney’s announcement that he would run for DCCC chairman comes even though The Associated Press has not yet called his own race in New York’s 18th District. Maloney was one of 30 Democrats running for reelection in districts President Donald Trump carried in 2016, and he currently leads Republican opponent Chele Farley by nearly 8,000 votes. New York accepts absentee ballots as late as Tuesday as long as they are postmarked by Election Day.

Maloney also attempted to run for DCCC chair two years ago, in the first ever contested race for the position. He dropped out of the race because an infection prevented him from returning to the District of Columbia for the vote. After Democrats failed to flip the House in 2016, Maloney conducted an extensive review of the committee, which he touted in his ill-fated run two years ago, and again in a letter to his colleagues Monday. 

“This project afforded me the opportunity to truly unpack the DCCC, including its budget, challenges, personnel structure, and national operations,” Maloney wrote. “Obviously Chairs [Ben Ray] Lujan and Bustos have made important changes since the Deep Dive, but this unique knowledge base will shorten the learning curve and allow me to hit the ground running immediately.”

Bustos, the second woman to lead the campaign committee, said in a statement that she decided against another term as DCCC chairwoman to focus instead on legislating. She noted that Democrats will control the House and the White House for the first time in a decade. 

“After four years of this Administration’s chaos and broken promises, there is now no limit to what we can achieve as we work to Build Back Better for the communities we serve,” Bustos said. “That is why, rather than seek a second term as Chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, I will instead focus my work on exciting legislative possibilities in the years to come.” 

Democrats are on track to hold on to their House majority, which Bustos said was her “goal No. 1” as DCCC chairwoman. 

But that majority has also shrunk, a disappointing outcome for those in the party who believed they could add seats this year. Bustos told House Democrats last week that she was “furious” that polls misread a national political environment that led to House Republicans netting four seats so far. 

Bustos will also be briefing the caucus on election results Tuesday.

Herb Jackson and Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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