Just a few weeks ago, Sen. Patty Murray was an endangered incumbent with a 50-50 shot to win re-election. But on Tuesday, the Washington state lawmaker emerged a political powerhouse as the newly anointed chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
By accepting the pleas of Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to take a job that no one else wanted in what is bound to be a challenging 2012 election cycle, Murray, who also serves as Conference Secretary, appears to be positioning herself for more ambitious moves up the party leadership ladder.
“I think a lot of people sometimes make the mistake of underestimating Patty Murray,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), a top electoral target for Republicans in 2012. “I think it’s inspiring she’s willing to take it on.”
Reid struggled over the past several weeks to find a more junior Senator from the class of 2008 for the DSCC job. But many Democrats said the decision to finally ask Murray appeared an inspired choice, given the need for a strong, experienced chairwoman during a cycle in which the DSCC will be fighting to retain 23 seats — two of them held by Democratic-leaning independents. Murray previously proved her fundraising skill atop the campaign arm in the 2002 cycle.
“If there was any cycle where we needed a seasoned hand at the rudder, it’s this one,” one senior Senate Democratic aide said.
The White House this week offered similar support for Murray, suggesting she would be a better fundraiser than several of the candidates who turned Reid down since the Democrats lost six seats on election night.
And although Murray will get tremendous credit with her colleagues for being somewhat of a sacrificial lamb in taking the job, the position actually comes with a number of perks for the quietly ambitious lawmaker.
“I don’t see a downside for her,” one senior Senate Democratic aide said.
Though talk in recent days centered on whether Murray might also be in a position to take over the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Democratic aides said Murray received no specific “quid pro quo” for her decision to take over the DSCC.
However, the senior Senate Democratic aide said that Murray’s decision to take the job would likely empower her to move her own priorities more quickly and that “she will probably use it as she goes forward.”
The DSCC chairmanship will give Murray a chance to shore up her relationships with the caucus, particularly with the Members she’ll be helping to re-elect, just as Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) did when he was chairman in the 2006 and 2008 cycles.