Reid’s Next Challenge: Finding DSCC Chairman

Freshman Sen. Mark Warner may be Senate Democrats’ first choice to take over as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, but he insists he doesn’t want the job. So getting him to agree to the position is going to require some serious lobbying from Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.). 

Warner, Virginia governor from 2002 to 2005 and briefly a 2008 presidential candidate, has strong fundraising connections, political instincts and a well-known workhorse demeanor, making him a clear favorite among his Democratic colleagues to take over at the DSCC. Some suggest Warner’s apprehension is due to the 55-year-old Democrat’s own ambitions, which might include a presidential bid, while others looking at 2012’s tough electoral map say running the DSCC might be an unattractive assignment.

Whatever the reason, Reid will have to do some begging. 

“I would take his ‘No, no, no’ seriously, but I’d keep an eye on him,” one Democratic lobbyist suggested of Warner. “He’s the only relatively pro-business Member around that’s not up, and that’s what you need at the DSCC.”

Likewise a Senate Democratic aide said Warner remains “the top choice, but he’s been pretty convincing in saying no.”

Reid’s electoral victory in Nevada this week stemmed off a potentially bruising battle for the Majority Leader spot, but with that issue now moot, it appears the Democrats’ major leadership headache is who will take on the DSCC job. National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) is expected to coast to another term and could announce his intent to run by next week. 

Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.), whose run as DSCC chairman during the 2006 and 2008 election cycles yielded the Democratic takeover and major gains, is another caucus-wide favorite to take the helm.

With 23 incumbents to defend in 2012, including nine Schumer steered to electoral victories in 2006, Congressional aides and K Street sources say the New Yorker would cement his chops as a political kingmaker if he can bring home some wins in politically tough states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri and Virginia next cycle. Schumer’s office declined to comment.

Sources said Reid will have to offer something to get Warner or anyone else to take the job.

This is not the first time Reid has had a challenging time persuading a Member of his caucus to accept the DSCC post. It took several attempts for the Nevada Democrat to get Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.) to agree to the job for the 2010 cycle. Schumer also had to be persuaded to return for a second stint, and in both cases, Reid enticed the men with a spot on the powerful Finance Committee for their contribution. With his business background, Warner has long-coveted a spot on the same panel since he came to the Senate, and such an assignment might be enough to woo the Virginia Democrat. The tactic is not just limited to Democrats: GOP Sens. John Ensign (Nev.) and Cornyn both serve on the Finance panel. However, committee ratios are likely to change to the Republicans’ favor following their romping this election cycle, and a spot on Finance may not even be available. 

Furthermore, Warner has positioned himself as a moderate dealmaker in the Senate, and Democratic aides said he does not want to ruin those credentials in the hyper-partisan role of DSCC chairman. Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), whom Warner worked closely with on financial reform earlier this year, is among the nine Republicans facing re-election in 2012.

Warner governed from the middle in Virginia, managing to persuade enough Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature to join Democrats in passing a $1.4 billion tax increase in 2004. His short-lived 2008 bid included talk of the “sensible center,” and he was considered too moderate by party insiders to win a Democratic primary.

Warner has held partisan positions, however, serving as campaign manager for L. Douglas Wilder’s successful 1989 bid to become the nation’s first black governor and as chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party in the early 1990s.

Like Warner, Schumer is said to be uninterested in becoming the DSCC chairman next year. But as one Democratic source suggested, “The best approach with Schumer is flattery. So the more people say we can’t do this without him, the more likely he is to do it.”

Reid’s office declined to comment on whether the Majority Leader is courting Warner, Schumer or any other potential candidate, and it remains unclear whether Democrats will have a candidate locked up by the time Members return for the lame duck session that begins Nov. 15. Aides to other possible candidates, including freshman Sens. Al Franken (Minn.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Mark Udall (Colo.) and Tom Udall (N.M.) all maintained that their bosses were not interested in being the DSCC chairman next year. 

“From my perspective, I think the caucus would be happy with almost anyone who is enthusiastic and willing to make the calls and be able to articulate our position for next year,” Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who faces re-election in 2014. “Both Mark Warner and Chuck Schumer would be excellent choices, but I don’t think Schumer would want to do it again. But, Lord, everyone knows they’d love it if he would.”

In the event a charm offensive on Warner doesn’t work, the Senate Democratic aide added, Plan B prospects include Franken and Sen. Michael Bennet (Colo.), who was appointed to his seat in 2009 and won a narrow victory Tuesday for a full six-year term. The aide said Franken “might be gettable if begged and offered the right thing.”

Warner remains unmoved. 

“No means no,” chief of staff Luke Albee said. “Sen. Warner is flattered, but no means no.” 

Emily Pierce contributed to this story.