Rep. Madeleine Dean’s profile rises amid Senate buzz

Pennsylvania Democrat was part of House impeachment team trying to convict Trump

Pennsylvania Democrat Madeleine Dean was one of nine House impeachment managers.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Pennsylvania Democrat Madeleine Dean was one of nine House impeachment managers. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted February 18, 2021 at 7:00am

Pennsylvania Rep. Madeleine Dean’s recent stint in the national spotlight as one of nine House impeachment managers has fueled more speculation that she could one day return to the Senate chamber — as a senator herself. 

Some Democrats are encouraging Dean to run for Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat, a top pickup opportunity after President Joe Biden won the state by 1 point in November. Dean is among a litany of potential Democratic candidates, with crowded primaries expected on both sides to replace retiring Republican Patrick J. Toomey.  

While some were urging Dean to consider running, a spokesperson said she has not had time to do so. Along with being part of the team trying to persuade the Senate to convict former President Donald Trump of inciting the rioters to storm the Capitol on Jan. 6, a book she and her son Harry Cunnane wrote about his struggle with opioid addiction also hits shelves this week.

“Having just completed her work in the most bipartisan impeachment in history, Rep. Dean is focused on combating COVID in tandem with the Biden administration, tackling gun violence, and revitalizing our economy. She’s also working with her son Harry to end the stigma of addiction and offer hope in recovery,” Dean spokesperson Tim Mack said.

Some Pennsylvania Democrats said the buzz around Dean is increasing, thanks in part to her role in the trial and her rising profile as she continues to make the rounds on national TV programs. 

If the second-term congresswoman, known as “Mad” to her friends, decides to run for Senate, she’d have to give up her Democratic-leaning 4th District seat in the Philadelphia suburbs. Allies say she won’t make the decision lightly, describing her as warm and caring, and also deliberative and methodical. Some of her allies are hoping she runs and believe she could become the Keystone State’s first female senator. 

“I have urged her to think about it,” said state Sen. Steve Santarsiero, a friend of Dean’s from her time in the state legislature. He later added, “I think she would win.”

In the spotlight

Some Democrats said speculation about a potential Senate by Dean run has increased since she was named an impeachment manager. Her son Pat Cunnane, a writer who worked in the Obama White House, contributed to the chatter, tweeting as his mother spoke on the Senate floor last week that she “seems comfortable in the Senate.”

Dean and other House members take cover on Jan. 6 as rioters broke into the Capitol. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Dean had less speaking time during the trial than some of the other managers, according to an analysis from The Washington Post. But the lawyer and former college professor had some standout moments, including emotionally recalling the terror of being in the House chamber as a mob of Trump’s supporters attacked the Capitol.

“At 2:30, I heard that terrifying banging on the House chamber doors,” Dean said, her voice breaking. “For the first time in more than 200 years, the seat of our government was ransacked on our watch.”

Dean is no stranger to the national spotlight, having made appearances on cable news during Trump’s first impeachment a year ago, when she was a freshman member of the Judiciary Committee. Some Democrats said she gained even more attention as an impeachment manager.

Since the trial concluded Saturday, Dean has made a handful of national television appearances, discussing impeachment and “Under Our Roof,” the book she co-wrote with her son.

Larry Ceisler, a Philadelphia public affairs consultant and longtime political observer, noted that TV anchors are now pronouncing her first name, which rhymes with her last name, correctly. 

“That’s how you know you’ve arrived,” Ceisler said. 

It’s not yet clear, though, if Dean will leverage her higher profile to run for statewide office.

“I don’t think she thought, “I’ll run for Congress now, I’ll run for the Senate next.’ That’s just not Mad,” said state Rep. Matt Bradford, another friend and former legislative colleague. But, he later added with regard to the Senate race, “I think Mad views this as an opportunity that she would be foolish not to consider very, very carefully.”

An unsettled field

Part of Dean’s deliberations could involve whether she would want to give up her House seat. Businesswoman Judith von Seldeneck, a friend and donor, spoke with Dean about the Senate race prior to the impeachment trial and questioned whether she would want to leave the House. 

“You’re on a leadership track within the House,” Seldeneck said she told Dean. “You do a couple more terms, you’re going to have more power in the House than as a first-term United States senator.”

The Democratic primary could also be crowded. Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is already in the race, and two Democrats in the state said Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh is expected to announce a Senate bid soon. Dean’s district includes most of Montgomery County. 

“For every whisper you hear about Congresswoman Dean running for Senate, you also hear one about Congresswoman [Chrissy] Houlahan or Congresswoman [Susan] Wild or Congresswoman [Mary Gay] Scanlon or even County Commissioner Arkoosh,” said Mark Nevins, a Democratic strategist based in Philadelphia, referencing three other Pennsylvania lawmakers who, along with Dean, were first elected to the House in 2018.  

Dean and other members of the delegation are also waiting for a new congressional map. Some Democrats believe other House members such as Houlahan and Rep. Conor Lamb, who is also considering a Senate run, are more likely to face tougher districts when the new lines are drawn. Dean is not considered as likely to face being redistricted into a seat she cannot win, after capturing an open seat in 2018 by 27 points and a second term last fall by 19 points.

Members of Congress weighing a Senate campaign may not be in any rush to decide. Unlike state and local office holders, House members can continue to raise money for their reelections and then transfer those funds to a Senate campaign. 

If Dean does run, some Democrats believe her role in impeachment could be helpful. 

“Let’s face it: In a Democratic primary, when Donald Trump is still fresh in voters’ minds, that’s going to be to her advantage,” Nevins said. 

But she still could have to work to win over progressives who might want her to support such policies such as “Medicare-for-All,” a single-payer health care system or the so-called Green New Deal, none of which Dean co-sponsors. 

“All Democrats could get behind the impeachment and the conviction of Donald Trump. That’s not really a progressive position, per se,” said Sue Caskey, who chairs the group Progressive Montco in Dean’s district. “We’re really looking for policy issues.”

Even after a tough primary fight, the eventual Democratic nominee would then face a competitive, and costly, general election. A national profile could help with fundraising. As of Dec. 31, Dean’s House campaign had $575,000 on hand, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. 

If Dean does run statewide, most Democrats did not think her role in impeachment would be a problem in a general election in a state that Trump narrowly won in 2016. They noted that Toomey, the retiring GOP senator, voted to convict the former president. 

Loading the player...