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For Ambitious Democrats, No Clear Path Forward

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
No Democrats have been positioning themselves yet to take the helm if Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi were to retire.

Pelosi’s first foray into leadership came after what seemed an unlikely bid for Whip against Hoyer. Pelosi won that position in the fall of 2001 with the help of the late Rep. John Murtha (Pa.). Pelosi sought the support of her numerous California colleagues and fellow women in that election, building a coalition to protect her place in leadership for the next decade.

That Whip race should be instructive for the young and emerging leaders now, a Democratic source suggested.

“It’s not something you ask permission for. You step up and you take it,” the Democratic source said.

Some Democrats contend that younger Members are doing their part to propel their careers. Those same sources also complain that Pelosi’s grip on the Caucus makes it difficult for anyone to build a coalition, although they concede it’s nearly impossible to compete with Pelosi’s fundraising abilities and deep-seated relationships.

Wasserman Schultz is an impressive fundraiser in her own right, raising more than $8 million for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee during the 2010 election cycle. Nevertheless, she was passed up to chair the campaign arm this election cycle and instead has forged her own way at the DNC. During her first nine months on the job, Wasserman Schultz has traveled to 29 states and done more than 400 events. While she is building a national donor base, Democratic aides caution that her work at the DNC won’t necessarily translate to votes in a leadership race driven much more by personal relationships.

Asked about her leadership ambitions, Wasserman Schultz said she is focused on the “re-election of Barack Obama and making sure that my constituents still agree that I’m the best person to represent them.”

DCCC Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) has won praise from colleagues for recruiting more than 70 candidates to run this cycle and for consistently outraising the National Republican Congressional Committee. In a statement, he was equally reserved about a future leadership bid.

“My focus is on the families in my district and on our ‘Drive to 25’ campaign to win the House,” he said.

Rep. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), frequently mentioned as a future leadership candidate, serves as the DCCC’s finance chairman and has raised close to $6 million for the political arm this cycle. He lost to Larson in a 2006 bid for Caucus vice chairman.

“I’ve never enjoyed sitting on the sidelines, especially when so much is at stake. We’ve got a majority to win back, gavels to win back and, most importantly, an agenda for working Americans that needs to be enacted. I don’t know what the future holds for me personally, but I do know the future needs to include a Democratic majority in the House,” he said when asked about his ambitions.

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