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Ask the Democratic lawmakers involved, and they’ll swear to you they’re focused on one thing only: winning as many seats as they can in November’s elections, hopefully propelling their party into the House majority.
But behind the scenes, the calls have already begun, starting with what will likely be a three-way race for Caucus vice chairman involving Reps. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), Jared Polis (Colo.) and Barbara Lee (Calif.).
None have announced publicly.
“I’ve been encouraged by a number of my colleagues to run and I would certainly be honored to serve as vice chair. I’m talking to my colleagues and am seeking their guidance and input,” Lee told Roll Call in a statement.
Crowley, who lost a heated, three-way race for vice chairman to current Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) in 2006, has long held leadership ambitions. But he backed Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) over Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) in the 2001 Whip race, and as Pelosi has moved up the leadership ladder since then, Crowley has been unable to break into the leadership ranks.
He has repeatedly offered to lead the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, but Pelosi has consistently rebuffed him, according to one source.
But in his current bid, the New York Democrat has garnered support from some Members in Pelosi’s backyard, including Rep. Linda Sánchez (Calif.).
And while Polis is a solid fundraiser, Crowley has raised more than five times as much money as Polis this cycle, $9.2 million to $1.7 million, giving him much more of an opportunity to dole out cash to colleagues and up-and-coming candidates.
“Members want to know what you can do for them,” one chief of staff said.
Crowley has moved to raise his profile this Congress by loudly defending Obamacare and attacking the GOP on its no-new-taxes pledge.
The case for Polis is his appeal to both the left of the Caucus and its center. He’s a member of the New Democrat Coalition and the Progressive Caucus. Polis would be the first openly gay Member elected to Democratic leadership.
However, Lee, an avowed liberal, could consolidate support from fellow liberals who are choosing on ideological grounds.
Several other names have been floated, including Reps. Karen Bass (Calif.) and Allyson Schwartz (Pa.). But it is unclear whether they will run, and Crowley, Polis and Lee have a head start.