Rep. Joe Crowley (N.Y.) has been quietly assembling an A-list team in his unannounced bid for vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus.
Rep. Anna Eshoo (Calif.), a close confidante of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), is a co-chairwoman of Crowley's campaign, a strong signal that Pelosi is at least unopposed to Crowley ascending into leadership.
Rep. Mike Thompson (Calif.), who is also a co-chairman, told Roll Call that Crowley is a "hard worker, Member's Member and interested in our issues." Pelosi, Eshoo and Thompson have served together for years in their capacities representing the San Francisco Bay Area.
For the vice chairmanship, which can be a key steppingstone to more powerful positions, Crowley is up against Rep. Jared Polis (Colo.) and, potentially, Rep. Barbara Lee (Calif.), according to Democratic sources.
A spokesman for Polis, who is engaged in a brutal fundraising schedule and is chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's Red to Blue program, said the Colorado lawmaker is consumed with campaigning for new Democratic Congressional seats, not a spot at the leadership table.
"Jared's focus is helping to elect a Democratic House majority, not who may or may not run for leadership. He is working hard to arm candidates across the country with the resources, strategy and messaging that will win this November," Polis spokesman Chris Fitzgerald said.
A spokeswoman for Lee did not return a request for comment.
Thompson said he was surprised at the breadth of support at a meeting hosted by Crowley several weeks ago.
"I went to one of his early meetings, and I walked in, I was surprised. I didn't think he'd had enough time to put that wide range of supporters together. It was very impressive. If the election were held that day, he walks away with it," Thompson said.
"And it was a group that was diverse. There were a number of different people there representing, I believe, different sides of the proverbial makeup of the party," Thompson said.
Rep. David Scott (Ga.), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Reps. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) and Tim Ryan (Ohio), both outspoken progressives, are also co-chairmen for Crowley.
"Congressman Crowley's focus right now is on helping Leader Pelosi and [DCCC Chairman Steve Israel] win back the majority, and he's working hard to make that a reality," a Crowley staffer said.
In 2006, Crowley fell short in a bid for Caucus vice chairman.
At that time, Rep. John Larson (Conn.), the current Caucus chairman, beat out Crowley and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (Ill.).
That race was viewed as a proxy fight between Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), who had campaigned against each other for Whip in 2001.
Pelosi was seen to be backing Schakowsky, and Hoyer backed Crowley. Crowley had backed Hoyer in his campaign against Pelosi.
But after the first round of ballots, Larson came out ahead. Democrats later said Pelosi urged her allies to switch to Larson out of fear Schakowsky would lose.
In part because of the episode, Democrats have wondered whether Pelosi would get involved in this race.
A source close to Pelosi said, "She has told everyone running for anything - chair or leadership or anything - 'Go make your case to the Caucus,' as she is focused on winning back the House."
And one Democratic lobbyist cautioned not to read too much into proxies, saying various unseen factors could be behind it.
But it's unlikely that a Member close to Pelosi would take a prominent role in Crowley's campaign without Pelosi's consent.
Pelosi relies heavily on a group of close allies, the most important of whom is Rep. George Miller (Calif.). But Democrats say Eshoo is royalty in Pelosi's world as one of her closest confidantes.
While Polis is a solid fundraiser, Crowley has raised more than five times as much money as him this cycle, $9.2 million to $1.7 million, giving him more of an opportunity to dole out cash to colleagues and up-and-coming candidates.
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 Congressional Progressive Caucus. Polis would be the first openly gay Member elected to Democratic leadership.
Right now, the vice chairman race is the only significant leadership fight on the Democratic side to heat up.
However, in the event that Democrats win back control of the House, it would create some new room for leadership contests.
In particular, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, would vie for the Assistant to the Speaker position. Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the current Assistant Minority Leader, would likely ascend to Whip, the third-ranked slot for a majority party and a position he held during the 110th and 111th Congresses.
Numerous Democrats said they still did not know what Wasserman Schultz's Plan B was if Democrats did not win the House. Her spokesman did not reply to a request for comment.
Besides Wasserman Schultz, Reps. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and Larson, who is vacating the Caucus chairman slot because of term limits, have not announced any specific plans for the next Congress.