It’s a tough job, but it can be a steppingstone for ambitious and politically savvy lawmakers.
Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.) may or may not take on another term at the helm of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. If he steps down, Reps. Allyson Schwartz (Pa.) or Jared Polis (Colo.) are possible replacements.
The DCCC chairmanship requires extensive travel and fundraising and is regarded as a brutal, often thankless job. But the chairman is appointed by the House Democratic leader, and the position has produced party superstars, including former Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), who went on to be Caucus chairman and White House chief of staff under President Barack Obama and is now Chicago’s mayor. House Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen (Md.) directed the DCCC during the 2008 and 2010 election cycles and is a top Obama surrogate.
Democrats say Israel has worked hard in the position. But redistricting and the political tides have most elections handicappers predicting few, if any, gains for Democrats in the House.
Schwartz is often mentioned as a potential statewide candidate in the Keystone State. She is a prolific fundraiser and has been deeply involved in DCCC recruiting, and she might find it tough to say no should Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) asks her to take the job.
Polis would not require a hard sell from Pelosi.
He is competing with Reps. Joe Crowley (N.Y.) and Barbara Lee (Calif.) for Caucus vice chairman, but Crowley increasingly appears to be in command of the race. The DCCC chairmanship is considered more prestigious than Caucus vice chairman, and Polis has displayed a zeal for political fundraising.
Polis offers broad ideological appeal as a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the New Democrat Coalition. He is openly gay, which would appeal to a key constituency.
As a co-chairman of the DCCC’s Red to Blue program, Polis has worked to ensure campaign funds are spent wisely by Democratic challengers.
“We don’t just help them raise a bunch of money and then let them waste it,” Polis told Roll Call recently. “We really want to make sure they spend it on things that work. Even to get into the Red to Blue, they have to have a campaign budget, a campaign plan that we approve that has, yes, how much they raise, but also how they spend it. Meaning that they need to know all the pricing of their media market and what they need to spend on ads to win and mail and field and everything else.”
Further down the list of possible DCCC picks are Reps. Donna Edwards (Md.) and Xavier Becerra (Calif.) and Crowley.
All except Becerra have DCCC leadership positions. Schwartz is recruiting chairwoman, Polis and Edwards are co-chairmen of the Red to Blue program and Crowley is the finance chairman.
Becerra, the current Democratic Caucus vice chairman, is coasting toward winning the chairman position unopposed.
Still, Israel could stay on. The job is his if he wants it. Democratic aides noted he has few options in leadership outside the DCCC. Leaving the campaign committee would put him in a boat with current Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.), Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) and Van Hollen, none of whom have an obvious spot in the leadership structure unless someone retires or decides to opt out of the current lineup.
Others point to how hard Israel has worked as a reason he would want to stay on to “finish the job” of reclaiming the House for Democrats. That would be true especially if the party makes significant gains.
Prospects for the House looked better over the summer, when GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign was flailing.
“I just nominated Mitt Romney to be one of the DCCC’s newest Majority Makers,” Israel told Roll Call in August. “He may have handed the majority to us with his choice of [Budget Chairman Paul Ryan]. The Ryan budget is a debate we know we win — and Mitt Romney just nationalized the debate.”
But as the presidential race tightened and the effects of Republican redistricting victories began to show, the window on Democrats picking up 25 seats closed, experts say.
If Democrats win back fewer than 10 seats, most would see that as a failure, perhaps prodding Israel to exit.
Israel’s intentions are difficult to decipher, in part because he has declined to engage in any leadership politicking during the final months of the campaign.