Three Members Vie for DCCC Chairmanship

Posted December 10, 2004 at 6:15pm

A week after House Democrats closed the 2004 cycle by splitting two open seats in Louisiana, the next leader of the party’s campaign arm remains a mystery, though sources say Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is moving closer to a decision.

Rep. Bob Matsui (D-Calif.), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s current chairman, is all but certain to pass on a second term.

But while Matsui was widely expected to announce his departure from the committee last week, the Californian held off on any statement — a move sources said coincided with a last-minute push by Pelosi to urge him to stay on.

Pelosi said last week she hadn’t talked to Matsui about his future at the DCCC since the Louisiana runoffs on Dec. 4 — the date they had indicated would kick off the discussions. But the Minority Leader added that if Matsui “wishes to stay,” he is more than welcome to do so.

“We haven’t sat down and had those conversations,” Pelosi said.

But if, as expected, Matsui does turn down another two-year stint, three serious candidates to replace him have emerged: Reps. Mike Thompson (Calif.), Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) and Joe Crowley (N.Y.).

Democratic sources say Pelosi recently has approached all three to take their temperatures about the job but has made no commitments or even given any indication of how she plans to proceed.

One senior Democratic strategist said last week “the time is now” for Pelosi to tap Matsui’s replacement, noting that the Louisiana runoffs have passed and little time remains between now and the next Congress.

“One can conclude that if it doesn’t happen soon, she is struggling with the right choice,” the strategist said.

House Republicans unanimously delivered National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) a second term last month.

Reynolds spearheaded the three-seat gain by Republicans in 2004, extending their majority to 232 seats.

The 2006 cycle seems likely to be more kind to Democrats, however, as the party out of the presidency has made gains in all but one of the five midterm elections staged in a president’s second term since World War II.

Democratic sources said Thompson and Crowley have been working behind the scenes to win support for the post, while Emanuel’s interest has been more muted as he sets his sights on a spot on the Ways and Means Committee. Those sources said Emanuel’s support is growing within the Caucus, and his position to win the appointment is improving with each passing day.

“Pelosi recognizes he’d be good at it,” a key Democratic campaign operative said of Emanuel, but added that Pelosi knows and doesn’t like the idea that she can’t micromanage the aggressive Illinois Member. “He isn’t begging for it, but if he’s going to do it, he’s going to do it his way,” said the source.

While Emanuel, Thompson and Crowley lead the pack of possible replacements, several senior Democratic aides suggested that Pelosi could easily sidestep those contenders for the 2006 cycle — just as she did in 2004 when she tapped Matsui. Naming Matsui, who was best known as a policy wonk, surprised most of Pelosi’s colleagues.

Sources close to Pelosi said the Minority Leader hasn’t made her decision yet. All three contenders insist they aren’t actively vying for the job, but have indicated a general willingness to help Pelosi and serve the party.

Crowley said he believes he will head the DCCC at some point in his Congressional tenure — if not this cycle, then another one. Crowley said he feels he could handle the job well given his strong relationships with different constituencies of the Caucus, and outside groups ranging from labor unions to the business community.

“We’ll just have to wait and see,” he said. “It remains to be seen what role Nancy envisions for me in the Caucus. I’m prepared to participate at any level.”

Thompson said he’s still assuming that Matsui will stay on at the DCCC, having not heard otherwise. He said his California colleague has “done a fantastic job” and hopes he would hold onto the post for another two-year term.

Asked whether he would consider the post if called upon, Thompson said: “I hate to speculate on hypotheticals. Nancy is a tremendous leader and I support her 100 percent. I’ll do whatever I can to help her and help the Caucus.”

Their own views of the job aside, several Washington insiders say a case can be made for Pelosi to tap any of the three.

Thompson is closest to Pelosi personally, and has been considered for the job in previous cycles. The California lawmaker chaired the DCCC’s outreach to the business community last cycle and gave more than $200,000

to the committee from his House campaign

account. But several strategists interviewed for this story questioned Thompson’s political judgment, noting that he was the favorite to be named head of the DCCC in 2004 before an ill-fated trip with Rep. Jim McDermott (Wash.) and then-Rep. David Bonior (Mich.) to Iraq when Saddam Hussein was still in power.

Also, Pelosi may be reluctant to pick another Californian for the job, looking to broaden her circle beyond the Golden State.

Emanuel is the clear favorite among consultants — and the potential chairman feared most by House Republicans.

The second-term Member developed a reputation as a bare-knuckled strategist during his time as senior adviser in the Clinton White House, an image reinforced during his successful primary campaign in 2002 to claim the north Chicago seat vacated by Rod Blagojevich (D), who went on to win the governor’s seat.

Emanuel also is considered the best fundraiser of the three candidates mentioned, with connections in both his native Chicago and nationally, due to his time spent in the White House. As a freshman in the 2004 cycle, Emanuel served as a vice chairman of the DCCC and gave the organization $175,000.

One Democratic consultant said Emanuel “brings a lot to the table. He is politically very savvy; he showed in his first term he understands the nexus of politics and policy; he obviously is a good fundraiser; and not the least of which, as a former DCCC staffer, he knows what works,” the consultant added.

Emanuel served as DCCC political director under then-Rep. Beryl Anthony (Ark.).

The Illinois Member also is the most reluctant to take the post, however. Those close to him note that Emanuel has three young children and may not be willing to take on the time-consuming job.

Crowley, for his part, is seen as more of a long shot, but he is a loyal party soldier who is ambitious to move up the leadership chain.