Wasserman Schultz Eyes Leadership Ladder

Florida Lawmaker Trails Fellow DCCC Contender Crowley in Money Chase but Leads in District Visits

Posted August 9, 2010 at 5:52pm

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is taking all the right steps from now to Election Day to make her a favorite to assume the helm of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee next cycle.

The Florida Democrat, who is vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee and vice chairwoman for incumbent retention for the DCCC, is traveling to 20 districts before the midterm elections to raise money and headline campaign events for vulnerable lawmakers.

“This is the third cycle that I’ve been spending a lot of time on the road,” Wasserman Schultz said. “It’s more and more every cycle. Mostly it’s because ‘Frontline’ Members have asked me to come to their districts.”

Several leadership aides and Democratic lobbyists said Wasserman Schultz’s intense fundraising schedule is part of her strategy to earn a senior leadership position next cycle — either at the DCCC or within the Democratic Caucus.

But Wasserman Schultz isn’t the only Democrat angling for a spot in leadership.

Rep. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), DCCC vice chairman for finance, and Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), chairman of the DCCC’s recruitment efforts, are also mentioned among Democratic aides and on K Street as top candidates to replace two-term DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.). Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is expected to announce Van Hollen’s replacement by mid-January.

Crowley has a fundraising edge among the trio. He had contributed nearly
$7.4 million to the DCCC this cycle as of the end of July, according to a recent DCCC dues sheet. Wasserman Schultz and Israel contributed about $3.7 million and $1.6 million, respectively, over that same time period.

While Wasserman Schultz may not have raised as much money as Crowley, she has opened up her donor base to several Members.

“That’s one of the real assets she brings to the table,” Rep. Bruce Braley (Iowa) said. “I call it a pay-it-forward mentality. She has the luxury of being in a district where she is probably going to get re-elected without a huge challenge.”

“You know that’s a way that breeds loyalty and a sense of commitment that she’s helping,” Braley added.

In addition to fundraising, Wasserman Schultz has also raised her national profile, regularly appearing on cable news shows and on the Sunday talk shows. Since January, she’s been on Sunday shows four times, the same amount as Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) and once more than Pelosi.

Wasserman Schultz said she isn’t focused on what leadership positions might be open next Congress.

“I’m focused on working hard to re-elect our Members,” Wasserman Schultz said. “I’ve always felt that I’m from a district where I can help, so I do.”

“Thinking about any of that other stuff is putting the cart before the horse,” she added.

Crowley said his focus has been on fundraising and retaining New York seats in particular.

“The key to maintaining control of the House is right here in New York,” he said, noting a long list of Democrats who have taken over previously Republican territory.

Crowley said he has offered to travel elsewhere in support of his colleagues.

“I will go anywhere,” he said. “I will be happy to help anyone who wants my help.”

Crowley, who is also chairman of the New Democrat Coalition, downplayed talk of a future leadership role.

“What I want to do is do whatever I can to make sure we retain the majority in the House and we grow the majority in the future, and will serve in whatever capacity I can,” he said Monday.

Still, Crowley’s ambition for a higher leadership position was on display as far back as 2006, when he lost to Rep. John Larson (Conn.) for Caucus vice chairman.

One former aide to a moderate House Democrat said both Crowley and Wasserman Schultz are rising stars but that she may have the edge right now.

“They are both on the money trail, but her going to districts may give her a leg up,” the former aide said.

An ethics inquiry into Crowley’s fundraising could scare off endangered lawmakers outside of New York, the ex-aide said, even though Members don’t think the issue is serious.

“Most of these guys know that Crowley would go out of his way to help them, and if they asked, he’d do it,” the source said.

Crowley’s massive haul of cash isn’t going unnoticed either, the ex-staffer added. “There are going to be a lot of people who are going to receive the benefits of his fundraising. He’s working it.”

Focusing on New York — and cash — is probably the smart thing for Crowley to do. “Those are seats that he can really influence,” the former aide said.

Aides and lobbyists suggested that Crowley could also look for a way to break in to elected leadership if passed over for the DCCC post and perhaps take on Larson for the Caucus chairman role. Crowley had been a prominent backer of Hoyer and has strong relationships with moderate lawmakers in particular.

“I’d love to see a place for both of them because I’d think it would be a huge benefit to the Caucus overall,” the former moderate aide said. “One can only hope.”