Crowley Quietly Campaigns to Replace Becerra

Posted December 8, 2008 at 6:34pm

Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), long a bridesmaid in House Democratic leadership contests, is moving quickly to make sure this time is different.

With Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) poised to leave the chamber — and the fifth-ranking Caucus vice chairman position that he won last month — to become the next U.S. trade representative, Crowley is lapping the field of his potential replacements by building an informal whip team to wrap up support.

The Queens Democrat has already sewn up a solid bloc of moderate Democrats hailing from the Blue Dog and New Democrat coalitions, with several working the phones for him, aides to moderate lawmakers said. And fellow New Yorkers are on board to help Crowley make inroads into other factions of the diverse Caucus.

Much remains unknown, not least of which is the timing of Becerra’s decision. He met with President-elect Barack Obama in Chicago on Thursday to discuss the job and has stayed mum since. His spokeswoman declined to comment Monday.

But the list of his potential successors — Crowley’s rivals — is taking shape. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), whom Becerra beat 175-67 for the job last month, is the only lawmaker officially running. Kaptur spokesman Steve Fought said the backing she gathered in the earlier race gives her a head start heading into this contest. “Anybody else is playing catch-up,” he said.

Two other potential candidates eyeing the race, Reps. Hilda Solis (Calif.) and Kendrick Meek (Fla.), claim close ties to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), a factor that could complicate Crowley’s early groundwork if one of them jumps in.

Moderate Democrats saw the Speaker’s hand at work in the days after the November election, as more centrist Members of the Caucus — namely Crowley and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) — got edged out of leadership slots that they had been eyeing in favor of Pelosi loyalists.

That prompted considerable angst among moderates and raised a still-unanswered question about the power of Pelosi’s pull within the Caucus.

But one Democratic strategist said Becerra was able to advance on his own steam because he was already at the leadership table, albeit in an unelected capacity, as the Assistant to the Speaker. “You can’t pick anybody out of the Democratic Caucus and elect them to leadership just because the Speaker is backing them,” the strategist said.

Crowley caught a break Monday afternoon when Wasserman Schultz, a fellow New Democrat, backed away from the Caucus vice chairman race after securing a post heading up incumbent retention efforts at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “After careful consideration, I believe I can best serve The Speaker and our caucus by helping protect our new and returning members, as well as our expanded majority” in that post, Wasserman Schultz said in a statement.

Crowley, meanwhile, remains publicly quiet about the race, and his office won’t officially confirm that he’s running for a position that is not yet vacant.

“Congressman Crowley sees Congressman Becerra as a friend and a colleague, and that’s why he nominated him for the vice chair position,” Crowley spokeswoman Angela Barranco said. “Until something changes, our office has no comment.”

But Crowley’s swift moves behind the scenes since news of Becerra’s possible jump broke last week reflect his determination to not let another shot at taking his place in leadership slip by.

The affable New Yorker appeared on track to secure the vice chairmanship back in 2006, but Rep. John Larson (Conn.) pulled out a surprise victory, beating him 116-87 on the second ballot. A prolific fundraiser, Crowley had been mentioned as possible DCCC chairman before that race, and his name has remained in the mix — most recently last month, when he faced intense pressure from moderates to take another run at the vice chairmanship. But when Becerra announced he was running, Crowley stepped aside, endorsed his California colleague and then nominated him before the Caucus.

That decision put Crowley in good stead with Rep. José Serrano, a fellow New Yorker and one of Becerra’s colleagues from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Now, Serrano said he is making calls “all over the place” to round up support for Crowley.

“There is a sense that he’s been loyal, supportive, helpful to a lot of individual Members, and every so often the time comes when you have to reward that,” Serrano said.

Crowley is getting other home-state help that could prove critical in expanding his reach into the Caucus. Rep. Edolphus Towns (N.Y.), a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus and likely the next chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, also is making calls on Crowley’s behalf, a spokeswoman confirmed.