Bennet Could Walk Fine Line at DSCC
Sen. Michael Bennet appears increasingly likely to take over the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for the 2014 election cycle, even though he may be worried about tarnishing his bipartisan reputation.
The Colorado Democrat’s office would not confirm that he is considering the job or even that he’s been offered it. But three high-level Democratic sources confirmed that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has asked Bennet to serve as the campaign chair.
Additionally, two Republican sources said Wednesday that Bennet’s office has already reached out to their camps to assure them that Bennet will still pursue bipartisan initiatives if he accepts one of the most partisan jobs in Congress.
The GOP sources indicated that they got the impression from Bennet’s office that he was preparing to accept the job, but Democrats are still keeping their choice close to the vest.
“I think we have a person in mind who will be announced pretty soon,” said Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., when asked about who he felt was qualified to fill the vacancy left by Sen. Patty Murray of Washington.
When asked what qualities a candidate for the top Senate campaign job should possess, Durbin had a quick but telling answer: “Patty Murray’s qualities.”
“Perseverance, recruiting the very best candidates, and raising money nonstop,” Durbin said in explanation.
Senate Democratic aides, who requested anonymity to describe the fluidity of Bennet’s decision-making process, said their leaders see in Bennet some of those Murray-esque attributes. The aides pointed to Bennet’s tough re-election battle in the Republican sweep of 2010 — the same wave that gave Murray a political scare — as one of his top virtues. That he survived a heated race in a more moderate state, the aides say, gives him one of the edges Murray has.
In an interview with Roll Call in June, Murray pointed to her 2010 experience as one of the top influences in her approach to running the DSCC in 2011 and 2012.
Bennet also has proved to be a solid fundraiser and a reliable liaison to the business community. According to an OpenSecrets review of Federal Election Commission reports, Bennet’s leadership PAC has raised more than $450,000 over five years. Securities and investment firms, as well as real estate and commercial banks are among the top five donors to his PAC by industry.
He has also been one of the go-to members during major budget debates, particularly in 2011 during the debt ceiling negotiations between Senate Democrats and business interests.
“Bennet is one of our finest members: He’s smart. He’s hardworking. He’s respected. I like him a lot, but I’m not going to comment on DSCC chair,” said former DSCC chairman and current No. 3 Democrat Charles E. Schumer of New York.
Durbin, when pressed on whether the “person in mind” was Bennet, said, “I’ve always liked Sen. Bennet.”
Of course, there are drawbacks in taking the job. Campaign chairman by definition is one of the most political jobs in Congress. Bennet has made several efforts to work across the aisle on issues important to him, from education to budget. Most recently, he has been working with Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., to come up with an offer on the ongoing end-of-year budget debates.
Unlike Murray’s home state of Washington, Colorado has become a battleground in recent years, which may be influencing Bennet’s concern about appearing too partisan. Similarly, members in the past who have taken campaign committee positions — such as Schumer and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas —often found they were viewed more skeptically when they tried to reach across the aisle during and after their tenure.
Choosing to be DSCC chairman frequently follows a common trajectory. Schumer, for example, is still a top fundraiser and spends most of his time in Washington planning public relations for the party.
But Murray showed she was able to navigate politics and policy last fall when she helmed a super committee on deficit reduction while also serving as DSCC chair.
Other names that have been floated for the position are Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.