House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is not worried about Republican campaign attacks against her stirring up enough opposition among Democratic candidates to impact her future as Democratic leader.
“I feel pretty confident about my ability, first and foremost, to be a master legislator for the American people, that I have proven that,” the California Democrat said.
“But what you have done is not why you should go forward. Why you should go forward is what are you going to do next, and we have a very positive agenda about how we take back the Congress for the Democrats,” she added. “I have a strong following in the country, and I don’t think the Koch brothers should decide who the leader of the Democratic party is in the House.”
Pelosi was responding to questions from reporters about the likely but still uncalled victory of Democrat Conor Lamb in the special election for Pennsylvania’s 18th District. The Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, along with the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Congressional Leadership Fund, spent millions in the race trying to tie Lamb to Pelosi. Lamb subsequently said he would not support Pelosi for Democratic leader if he were elected.
“I just wanted him to win,” Pelosi said. “I don’t really think that that had much impact on the race.”
While Lamb did note on several occasions he was not supporting Pelosi, she doesn’t believe that was a major pillar of his campaign.
“I don’t think that he ran against me the entire time. I think he ran on his positive agenda,” Pelosi said, citing his support for protecting Medicare, helping working families and the backing he got from unions. “It was a very issues-oriented campaign.”
The “D” next to Lamb’s name was “very significant” in blue parts of the 18th District, and Lamb mounted a successful effort to minimize the damage in deep red counties, she added.
“This was a very big win,” she said.
Pelosi said she expects the Kochs and other Republicans to continue to spend money across the country trying to tie Democratic candidates to her, noting,“They’re coming after me because of my city and they’re against LGBT and they’re against poor children.”
“Yes, I am a liberal,” she said, but noted that “the misrepresentations, the denominations” that have put out against her are just like attacks Republicans have made against Democratic leaders for years and they won’t matter.
“I feel pretty confident that we’re going to win, we’re going to win big,” she said. “We’re going to win a lot of seats and that’s going to be good for the American people.”
If Democrats do win big enough to retake the House and Pelosi decides to run for speaker again, she will likely face a challenge.
Unlike elections for minority leader where she only needed a simple majority of the caucus to be elected, Pelosi will ultimately need 218 votes on the floor to be elected speaker. If Democrats hold a narrow majority, that vote could get complicated if several incoming freshmen win in part on promises not to support her.
Most House Democrats on Wednesday wouldn’t delve into the leadership question but some did say they expect candidates to take the same tact as Lamb and oppose Pelosi.
Pelosi also wasn’t phased by the prospect of more Democratic candidates saying they won’t support her ultimately impacting her ability to remain as leader of the caucus.
“The fact is that one candidate in Texas came out and said he would not be for me and he came in fourth, so let’s not read too much into this,” she said, referring to Jay Hulings, who failed to advance out of the Democratic primary in Texas’s 23rd District.
Pelosi then continued to bring her argument back to the GOP: “This is part of the bankruptcy of the Republican Party. … They can’t win on the issues so they go after a person.”
Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.
With campaign season here, Hill staffers are likely to find their duties expanding with election-related tasks.
Press secretaries and senior staff doing paid or volunteer campaign work routinely flock to nearby coffee shops with their personal laptops to send campaign press releases or go on walks to take reporters’ calls about their boss’s re-election. Campaign work has to be done on staffers’ own time, off government property.
Everyone knows there’s supposed to be a separation between official and campaign work. That’s Ethics 101 in Washington.
But even the most black-and-white lines are still crossed. And in reality, some lines — like what constitutes government time — are murky, especially when enforcement is lacking.
Rep. Josh Gottheimer’s office found out the hard way earlier this year when the New Jersey Democrat’s communications director emailed reporters from his government email address about the congressman’s fourth-quarter fundraising numbers.
Not only was the email sent from a government email address with the communications director’s official title in the signature, but the closing line of the email instructed reporters to reach out about the fundraising numbers to that same email address.
“He just messed up, it’s an honest mistake,” a source with the Gottheimer campaign told Roll Call on Jan. 30, the day the email was sent. “He’s new, he’s young.”
The staffer started with Gottheimer in October but is no longer with the office. According to his LinkedIn profile, he was Washington press secretary for Texas Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar for six months before that.
House employees are required to take an hour of ethics training per year, either online or in person. New employees must receive training within 60 days of their start.
The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust filed an ethics complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics against Gottheimer.
Gottheimer’s office said the incident was a violation of office policy. “The office has a very strict policy banning any campaign work on official time,” press secretary Matt Fried told The Bergen Record in January. “We re-issued our guidelines and reminded everyone to be meticulous in following the rules.”
Gottheimer is not the only vulnerable member whose office has been on the receiving end of such complaints. The Nebraska Democratic Party sent a complaint to the OCE alleging that freshman Republican Rep. Don Bacon misused taxpayer dollars when he sent tweets from his official Twitter account that criticized predecessor — and likely 2018 challenger — Brad Ashford. Bacon’s office said Wednesday it’s never received notice of the complaint.
Official resources cannot be used for campaign purposes, and campaign resources cannot be used for official purposes. That’s the basic takeaway from the House and Senate ethics guidelines.
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Resources are broadly defined and can include time, electronic equipment, physical space and office supplies. Schedulers in the House and Senate can coordinate with the campaign when it comes to the member’s schedule.
Senators can designate three official staffers to solicit and handle campaign funds, but they must still do so on their own time without using government resources.
That’s all fairly straightforward. But things get confusing when it comes to time.
“The time when you’re on the clock for the taxpayer and when you’re on the clock for campaign is a total grey area,” said Meredith McGehee, executive director of Issue One, whose bipartisan board pushes for new campaign finance and ethics laws.
The House Ethics Manual advises staffers to keep records of their time. But then it adds: “There is no set format for maintaining such time records.”
“Of all the rules, it is probably the one most abused,” McGehee said. “It’s up to offices to police themselves,” she said, noting most don’t keep time sheets.
“You’re technically not supposed to do anything during work hours, but does that mean the time in D.C. or in the home state?” asked one former staffer who used to work for a Midwestern senator. When the Senate was in session, he would often do campaign work from 6 to 9 p.m. because he could still reach in-state reporters.
“I just had to do a shit-ton on the weekends,” he added.
Staffers often save up their vacation days to volunteer on the campaign late in the fall.
But in the case of staffers being paid by both the government and the campaign, the source of the salary needs to be commensurate with the work they’re doing. For example, chiefs shouldn’t be receiving 90 percent of their salary from the government if their mostly doing campaign work.
“To be honest, it’s almost impossible to prove somebody’s doing this unless you know someone spends all their time in the campaign office or calling donors,” said a Democratic source familiar with ethics rules.
Other rules can trip up staffers. There are caps on how much senior staff can earn from outside sources, including from the campaign. That rule earned Arizona GOP Rep. David Schweikert’s chief an ethics complaint.
Reimbursements are also tricky. Official staffers can’t use their own money to buy something for the campaign, even if they’re promptly reimbursed. That’d be considered an illegal in-kind contribution since staffers cannot contribute to their boss’s campaign.
Official staffers aren’t supposed to be pressured to do campaign work, but in reality, that’s not the case, McGehee said.
“If you’re a team player, you’ll volunteer to go out,” McGehee said of the prevailing perception.
“It’s similar to sexual assault in some ways,” she said of a staffer speaking up against the pressure to do campaign work. “If you make a choice as a staffer to go down this path and complain, go to OCE or the Ethics Committee, you have de facto decided your career on the Hill is over.”
Facing re-election in a district President Donald Trump narrowly carried in 2016, Gottheimer’s done what any consultant would tell him to do: break with his party on difficult votes and raise lots of money.
The National Republican Congressional Committee called his office’s email incident a “troubling misuse of taxpayer dollars.”
Ethics complaints can be fodder for political attacks, but they generally don’t stick unless they contribute to a broader narrative about a member abusing his or her office.
For example, Nevada Republicans in 2011 filed an ethics complaint against Rep. Shelley Berkley, a Democrat who was running for Senate, alleging that she used her office to enrich herself. The New York Times had already published a story about how Berkely’s office often took actions that benefited her husband’s business interests.
“She was never able to overcome that piece,” the Democratic source said.
Early in the 2016 campaign cycle, Democrats tried to use alleged misuses of taxpayer money by Utah Rep. Mia Love to try to paint a broader narrative about a rising Republican star who was out of touch with her district. She still won re-election by 12 points.
With so many House Republicans finding themselves in potentially competitive races for the first time, one Democratic operative suggested some offices may find themselves unprepared for how to navigate the lines between campaign and official work. Still, when ethics complaints do pop up, many disappear or take years to resolve, often outlasting the election cycle.
“Offices and their attorneys are very good at slow-walking this process to drag it out as long as possible,” said the Democratic source familiar with ethics rules.
Small things — like Gottheimer’s email mishap — aren’t likely to become a political vulnerability. But responding to even minor ethics complaints — which anyone can file — can be distracting and, ultimately, costly when it comes to legal fees.
Women have been heading up congressional offices dating back to the 1940s, but that “assistant” position looked very different from today’s chief of staff post.
The 1946 Legislative Reorganization Act created the title of administrative assistant, which evolved into chief of staff. In 1947, there were about six female administrative assistants in the Senate, according to Senate Historian Betty K. Koed.
The number didn’t hit double digits until the mid-1970s. Around 1984, the title “chief of staff” started to appear in the phone directory.
Maura Keefe became chief of staff to Connecticut Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro in 1996.
“At the time a lot of people still used the AA, administrative assistant, title. I think one of the reasons that changed [was] when women were … using that title, people thought they were secretaries,” she said.
Keefe, who now serves in the same position for New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, recalled wanting to be addressed as chief of staff because, as she put it, “I don’t want people from the outside world calling and thinking I’m taking dictation in here.”
DeLauro herself is no stranger to the role. When Sen. Christopher J. Dodd first came to Congress in 1981, he brought his campaign manager, DeLauro, to serve as chief.
“It was a daunting experience, and at that time, I think there may have been five of us women,” she said. Democratic Sens. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont and Bill Bradley of New Jersey also had female chiefs, she recalled.
By 1986, the number was roughly 16, Koed said. It grew to 20 by the 1990s, and to 25 by the 2000s. There were 27 in 2014 and 32 today.
Along the way, other trailblazing careers took shape. Betsy Wright Hawkings became one of the youngest female chiefs in 1990, leading Connecticut GOP Rep. Christopher Shays’ office, and Kathy Gille became one of the first women to supervise a whip operation in the House in 1991 when her boss, Michigan Democrat David E. Bonior, became House majority whip. (Hawkings is married to Roll Call senior editor David Hawkings.)
“It was a steep climb,” said DeLauro, who served almost eight years as chief. “In the issue of being taken seriously, as a female chief of staff, you have the right mix of knowing when to be tough [and] knowing when to back off. I think women always have a tougher road to go down in these areas.”
While DeLauro recalled being treated differently sometimes because of her gender, she also had great male allies. One was her boss, who she said had a lot of confidence in her and allowed her to voice her opinion. Another was former Sen. Ted Kaufman, then chief of staff to fellow Delaware Democrat Joseph R. Biden Jr. when he served in the Senate.
“You can’t be faint of heart. It’s like being a member of Congress. You’re not going to get a leg up because you happen to be female. You have to be able to do the job,” DeLauro said.
She said Keefe, for example, is someone who “doesn’t mince words.”
“There are instances … where you’re in a meeting with a group and you’re with a younger, more junior male member of your staff and they’re addressing the male member of your staff,” Keefe said. “It happens. It’s an unconscious bias.”
Keefe has worked for Shaheen since 2009 and chairs the Democratic chiefs of staff weekly meeting. Her Republican counterpart is another woman, Lisa Goeas from Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst’s office.
Keefe also co-founded the annual Women on the Hill dinner for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which had its sixth dinner earlier this month. The dinner started after the DSCC hosted a Senate chiefs event that only featured men.
“A bunch of women from downtown who were invited emailed myself and emailed some other women chiefs at the time and said, ‘Hey, what the heck? Why aren’t you guys at this?’” Keefe said.
The DSCC said it was a mistake and immediately agreed to a women’s dinner to showcase female chiefs.
Watch: Pelosi — Lamb Win in Republican District a ‘Tremendous Victory’
Tributes to the late Billy Graham, talking points about the Russia investigation, touts for the Republican’s tax bill — watching the House and Senate floors can be a thankless task. But the floor charts make it all worthwhile.
Lawmakers like these oversized and sometimes garish visual aids because they help get the point across. The Twitter handle @FloorCharts posts some of the daily highlights, and Roll Call now provides a monthly roundup of the best of the best.
On March 13, Democratic Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York brought photographs of the women he deems to be the top female hip-hop artists of all time.
The congressman honored Women’s History Month by showcasing one artist each day for the first ten days of March. Last year, Jeffries made headlines when he brought a photograph of The Notorious B.I.G. to the House floor on the 20th anniversary of his death.
Rep. Mike Quigley walked the line between prop and floor chart on Feb. 27. The Illinois Democrat brought an Eddie Olczyk Blackhawks jersey to the House floor. A former NFL player turned Blackhawks announcer, Olczyk is fighting colon cancer.
The Florida Republican gestured at a photograph of Schiff covered by a Russia Today lower third and a red callout reading “RT: KREMLIN-OWNED PROPAGANDA NETWORK.”
On Feb. 27, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick brought a familiar image to the House floor: a high school.
The Pennsylvania Republican’s speech came amid the public conversation about school safety after the shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Sen. Jeff Merkley kept it simple on March 7. The Oregon Democrat spoke about housing foreclosures and brandished an image leaving nothing to the imagination: a house with a foreclosure label over it.
Bonus: An aide to Rep. John Shimkus tweeted a behind-the-scenes look at the congressman reviewing floor charts in his office on March 5.
Here’s a congressional throwback — a phrase or part of Capitol Hill culture that a younger generation of Hill staffers might not know.
The term (rhymes with rude) dates back to the Clinton administration. It was coined in 1993 during a debate on legislation to reduce the deficit, which included a proposal to tax the heat content — measured in British thermal units, or BTUs — of most forms of energy.
President Bill Clinton lobbied for House Democrats to vote for the tax, and most of them did. But he didn’t try as hard with Senate Democrats, and the proposal didn’t even see a vote in that chamber.
House Democrats were not pleased that they gave in to Clinton’s push to vote against their best interests, according to a 2005 CQ magazine piece. Democrats lost control of both chambers the following year in the Republican revolution.
Hence getting ‘BTUed’ = getting screwed.
A second Republican-crafted tax overhaul bill? In a highly competitive midterm election year? President Donald Trump keeps suggesting Republican lawmakers should do just that.
Trump and Republicans late last year relished his lone legislative feat, a tax bill that slashed rates while also opening new Arctic oil drilling and nixing Barack Obama’s individual health insurance requirement. He threw a celebration party with all congressional Republicans on the White House’s South Portico and insisted on signing the bill into law several days early in a hastily arranged Oval Office session.
During public remarks — both at official White House events and campaign rallies — he almost always brings up the tax law. He touted the tax cuts Wednesday during a roundtable with private-sector officials in St. Louis as they gushed about the law’s impacts on them personally, their employees and their businesses. And during a Saturday rally in Pennsylvania for GOP House candidate Rick Saccone, Trump urged the crowd to go vote for him Tuesday because “we need him. We need Republicans. We need the votes. Otherwise, they are going to take away ... your tax cuts.”
At least three times since Feb. 1 — and twice this week alone — the president has suggested Republicans need to team up with him again for “round two” of tax rate cuts and code alterations. He revealed Wednesday that House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady is working with him to write a second measure.
But the president's first comments about a second bill could be viewed as him just ribbing the Texas Republican, whom he has teased about working around the clock to get the GOP tax law crafted and to his desk.
“We’re now going for a phase two. We’re actually going for a phase two,” Trump said Wednesday. “It’s going to be something very special. Kevin Brady’s working on it with me.” He even contended that Democrats will have a “big incentive” to support the second bill.
Trump singled out Brady on Monday during an event at the White House, telling him, “Kevin, are we going for an additional tax cut, I understand?”
“He’s the king of those tax cuts. Yeah, we’re going to do a phase two,” the president said. “I’m hearing that.”
The audience, there to see the president honor the World Series Champion Houston Astros, responded with a collective laugh. A lighthearted Trump smiled, but persisted in a serious tone: “We’re actually very serious about that, Kevin. So it’s good.”
Those predictions of a “phase two” came after Trump went to the GOP policy retreat in West Virginia on Feb. 1 and said this while addressing Brady: “Maybe we’ll do a ‘phase two,’ I don’t know. We’ll do a phase two. Are you ready for that, Kevin? Huh? I think you’re ready. ... We’ll get them even lower.”
Asked just what the president is referring to and whether he was indeed working on a new tax overhaul bill, a White House official replied succinctly: “He was joking.”
But was he?
A Ways and Means spokeswoman referred a reporter to comments Brady made Wednesday on Fox Business. “We are,” he replied when asked if a second tax bill is in the works.
“We think even more can be done,” Brady said. “While the tax cuts for families were longterm, they’re not yet permanent. So we’re going to address issues like that. We’re in discussions with the White House, the president, on this issue.”
Brady and other Republicans dropped an idea earlier this week to include tax code fixes in a coming omnibus spending bill as Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said his caucus would only sign on if they got code changes they want in return.
Further muddying the waters about how serious Trump and Brady are is an audio recording of Trump’s off-the-cuff remarks at a Wednesday evening GOP fundraiser in Missouri that shows how the president often says things in certain terms even when he later admits he was uninformed about the subject matter.
Trump told Republican donors he once told Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Canada enjoys a trade surplus with the United States despite having “no idea” if that was true, according to the Washington Post.
Any Republican-crafted tax measure almost certainly would need special rules to allow it to pass the Senate with 51 votes — and even then it likely would not be a sure thing. And only a budget resolution can unlock those rules, known as “reconciliation.” GOP leaders have shown no inclination to even craft, much less pass, a budget resolution this year, complicating Trump’s idea — serious or not.
Brady would only commit to a timeline of “this year” for rolling out some “new, good ideas.” However, he did not commit to moving a second measure in 2018.
And one GOP source said that is for a good reason.
“I think the president enjoyed the tax reform process and wants more of it,” said one Republican source with knowledge of the situation. “But, of course, we can’t do that this year, and no one on the Hill is considering it at all.”
Watch: Congressional Republicans Had Wonky Plans for the Week. Then Trump Happened
Georgia’s 7th District will have a six-way Democratic primary after a former healthcare professional qualified for the race, according to local news reports Friday.
The seat is currently occupied by fourth-term Republican Robert Woodall and is rated Solid Republican by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales.
The latest candidate to enter the fray, Kathleen Allen, told the Forsyth County News she was inspired to run after hearing an elected official’s take on the affordable care act, an issue she has dealt with professionally. The newspaper did not identify the official.
“I thought this district deserves to be represented by someone who is listening to them and who knows what niche issues in this whole health care package relate to different constituents,” Allen told the newspaper.
Qualifying for the seat wrapped up last week and the field is among the most crowded of any of the state’s U.S. House races, according to the Associated Press.
The district voted 51.1 percent for President Donald Trump in the 2016 election, and 44.8 percent to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. That year, Woodall bested his Democratic opponent, Rashid Malik, with 60.4 percent of the vote.
Allan will join Democrats Carolyn Bourdeaux, David Kim, Ethan Pham, Melissa Davis and Steve Reilly in the May 22 primary. On the Republican side, Woodall will have only one challenger, Shane Hazel. The winners will face each other on Nov. 6.
The special election result in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District has rocked the political world on its heels, with Democrat Conor Lamb’s success in the heavily Republican region setting off a fresh round of speculation about the 2018 midterms.
Roll Call Senior Political Reporter Bridget Bowman, who reported from the area recently, was at the Capitol gauging reaction from members of Congress after the latest round of political jousting.
Listen to the full podcast:
Democrat Conor Lamb is running in the 17th District against GOP Rep. Keith Rothfus, after winning an upset victory in the 18th District. The news was first reported by the Beaver County Times and confirmed by a local Democratic official.
The move was expected since Rothfus’ seat became more favorable to Democrats in the recent Pennsylvania redistricting. The state Supreme Court imposed a new congressional map, which is still being challenged in federal court. Under the new lines, President Donald Trump would have won Rothfus’ seat by two points.
The Associated Press has not yet called the 18th District election for Lamb, who leads GOP state Rep. Rick Saccone by 627 votes. But signatures to file in the newly configured districts are due on March 20. Saccone has already been circulating signatures in the new 18th District, now the 14th, and Lamb has not yet said publicly where he would run.
But the Beaver County Times reported that Lamb had applied for the endorsement of the Beaver County Democratic Committee, which is located in the 17th District, currently held by Rothfus. Under the new lines, Lamb now lives in Rothfus’ district.
Beaver County Democratic Committee Chairman Stephen Dupree confirmed the report Thursday afternoon. Dupree said an official with the Lamb campaign phoned him on Wednesday and gave him the $150 fee to apply for the committee’s endorsement.
“They erased his district so he now lives in 17th District. Why wouldn’t he run there?” Dupree said of Lamb in a phone interview. “He’s going to have some similar voters. And he’s going to have the same type of voters a lot of Democrats who are socially conservative and pro-gun rights so I think his message of working together is going to go far in this district.”
The committee will meet on March 22 to endorse a candidate. Two other candidates, attorney Beth Tarasi and teacher Aaron Anthony, have applied for the committee’s endorsement. Dupree said there could be other candidates who apply, including Ray Lindenmeyer, who founded a group to mobilize Democrats in the area.
Republicans have argued that Lamb would not survive a Democratic primary that could favor more liberal candidates. But Dupree said he believed primary voters in the district would pick a more centrist Democrat.
Dupree said Lamb already had an advantage of a robust campaign and ground game, but he also has the challenge of introducing himself to new voters, particularly in Beaver County.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced Thursday that Lamb would be added to their Frontline Program, which supports vulnerable incumbents. Lamb’s campaign did not immediately return a request for comment.
Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the 17th District Tilt Republican.
Armed with a Nokia cellphone and a couple of semesters of graduate school, Dan Sena was ready for battle.
It was 1998, and the future executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was going to be a key cog in his party’s effort to take over a House seat in New Mexico, even though at the time his previous professional highlights included teaching tennis at a country club, washing dishes on his college campus and selling CDs at the Villa Linda Mall.
Then Sena, dressed in a suit and tie, got a reality check on appropriate canvassing attire from veteran Democratic consultant Sue Burnside.
“I remember her saying, ‘What the heck are you wearing?’” he recalled. “I told her, ‘I’m here to help you win.’ She said, ‘Go home and put some real clothes on. You don’t have any idea. You’re going to walk.’”
Over the next two decades, Sena honed his skills in federal, state and local campaigns and now leads the Democrats’ House campaign operation as it seeks to recapture the majority.
Watch: Congressional Republicans Had Wonky Plans for the Week. Then Trump Happened
Back in 1998, Sena felt called home to New Mexico to work on the special election in the Albuquerque-based 1st District. The University of Arizona graduate left Washington, D.C., where he was attending George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management, to spend the spring and early summer canvassing — going door to door, with a clipboard in hand.
“He was humble and ready to go to work,” Burnside remembered. “He came to his shift an hour early to do extra things.” He could have played his trump card, according to Burnside, considering his father was chairman of the state Democratic Party, but Sena chose to never tell his fellow canvassers.
Democrats’ hopes of winning the GOP seat faded when they nominated 31-year-old multimillionaire Phil Maloof, a state senator who wasn’t known for his intellectual heft. Republican Heather A. Wilson won the race by 5 points.
“The campaign was just hell and he never showed a moment of stress,” Burnside recalled. “I immediately offered him a job.”
Sena’s Hispanic father ran a van company, eventually receiving his MBA from Harvard, while his Irish mother taught fourth grade. His great-uncle, Dennis Chavez, served in the New Mexico Legislature in the 1920s and, in 1940, became the first person of Hispanic descent elected to a full term in the U.S. Senate.
“In the family, politics is a noble profession,” Sena said.
Now 42, Sena grew up in Santa Fe about 20 minutes away from his current boss, DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján, whose father was speaker of the New Mexico House. Back in 1998, Sena worked on Democrat Tom Udall’s successful 3rd District race and spent time at the Lujáns’ home since it was a staging area for the campaign.
Burnside and Sena had to build a New Mexico voter file from scratch for the Udall race, and she subsequently deployed him to a batch of races in California over the next few years.
He helped Joe Baca defeat Martha Macías Brown and the political establishment in a 1999 special election to replace her late husband, and he later worked on Jane Harman’s coordinated campaign. Sena also gathered signatures against the National Rifle Association to pressure the Utah Legislature to review its gun policies. (It didn’t work.) And he managed longtime City Councilmember Joel Wachs’ bid for mayor of Los Angeles in 2001.
“I was 25 and shouldn’t have been managing,” Sena recalled. Wachs went from one of the front-runners to a distant fourth place finish (11 percent) in the primary. “I drove that campaign directly into the ground,” Sena said.
In 2004, Sena helped register more than 250,000 Latino and Native American voters nationwide through Moving America Forward, the 501(c)(3) organized by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. Sena eventually worked on Richardson’s 2008 bid to become the first Hispanic president of the United States, but the governor dropped out after early disappointing finishes. All was not lost, however, considering the campaign in Iowa connected Sena with his future wife Elizabeth, now a partner at Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.
Sena returned to the Land of Enchantment in 2008 as field director for Udall’s 61 percent to 39 percent victory for an open GOP Senate seat.
The next year, he worked on Blackberry co-founder Jim Balsillie’s unsuccessful effort to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes of the National Hockey League. And at the end of the 2010 cycle, Sena worked for Patriot Majority, Nevada Sen. Harry Reid’s independent expenditure committee, and directed Spanish media in the Democrat’s 5-point win over Sharron Angle.
But Sena wasn’t satisfied. For two weeks, he lived at the Days Inn in Ballston, Virginia, waiting for the Democratic Governors Association to call him back for an interview for a second stint. (He spent the 2006 cycle there as deputy political director.)
“We wanted someone who was experienced, but still full of energy,” said Colm O’Comartun, then the DGA’s executive director and a top aide to Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. “He brought a different perspective to the map that was different than the usual DC-insider perspective, and some geographic balance.”
After a cycle as DGA political director, Sena took a step back from politics. “I was interested in what life was like as a normal person,” he said. He took a job with Share our Strength, building capacity for the group’s “No Kid Hungry” campaign. “I was trying to think through how to balance marriage, a family, and work,” he recalled. “In the end, I wanted to win elections.”
When Udall’s 2014 re-election race tightened, Sena was called in to take the reigns. “When I’m in a tight spot, I want Dan Sena by my side,” the senator said.
“He’s like part of my family,” said Udall, whose daughter grew up with Sena. “He does things by the book, and always stays on top of all the important data you need to evaluate in making campaign decisions.”
He ran the campaign from a dilapidated building in the historic Nob Hill neighborhood of Albuquerque. Staffers recalled him choosing to share an office the size of a closet with the finance director to free up space for the rest of the staff, and carving out time each day for his wife and daughter.
“I drew a moat around those [voters] most likely to leave,” Sena said about running in a cycle that spiraled away from Democrats nationally. Udall won re-election by 11 points.
Sena returned to Washington to work for the DCCC as deputy executive director for voter contact and analytics during the 2016 cycle, in which Democrats netted six seats but fell short of expectations. Now Sena is the first Latino to direct a party campaign committee.
“Diversity is very important to me. And having an E.D. with all the skill sets that Dan has is first critical,” Luján said, while stressing the impact of younger, minority staffers seeing a person of color who grew up on a dirt road running a committee that will raise and spend at least $200 million.
“Coming into the 2018 cycle, I knew it would be unlike anything we’ve experienced,” Luján said. “As we looked at what we needed, we needed an agile strategist at the helm, someone who can work smart and develop partnerships with a number of grass-roots organizations.”
“We’re living in a new world and our campaigns have to adapt,” said Sena, who deployed a field program earlier than at any point in the committee’s history.
While historical midterm trends favor the minority party, the cycle is proving to be a challenge amid Democratic infighting over their ideological and strategic direction and public criticism of the DCCC.
“I know from my career that it can be tough to find a perfect balance between all groups, but ultimately we’ll all be unified to take back the House,” Sena said.