Jeffries faces decision as House Dems’ next campaign chair still a mystery

Some Latino Democrats want one of their own after a cycle of tense relations with the DCCC. Progressives are hoping for someone who can mend relations with them after bruising primary battles. Endangered Democrats prefer a chair who understands their experience — but not one who might lose in 2024, like Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (DN.Y.) did this year. And some members are still pushing for a leader that isn’t even a member of Congress, an unusual move likely not allowed under the party’s rules, although there’s no consensus on who.

Weeks of quiet maneuvering by the two openly declared candidates, Bera and Cardenas, were rendered mostly moot by the caucus rules change making the position appointed instead of elected, and it is not clear where Jeffries will land. Asked if he would limit himself to the two declared candidates, Jeffries declined to weigh in: “It’s an important decision and I’m going to pursue that decision with the seriousness, solemnity and solemn nature that the decision requires.”

It’s part of a broader reckoning over Democrats’ electoral fortunes and political strategy, after House members watched two straight DCCC chairs face tough challenges back home — Rep. Dear Bustos (D-Ill.) faced a close race in 2020 before Maloney’s loss this year — and dealt with caucus-wide wrangling over how to message voters.

It all shapes up to be a difficult task for the incoming leader as he fills out the remainder of his leadership team.

“You’ve got to raise a shit-ton of money for the entire caucus, You got to support frontliners and help us flip seats red to blue. So it’s a tough job,” said Rep. Jamaal Bowman (DN.Y.). “It has to be someone who’s a superstar but it also needs to be somebody that can build coalitions of different diverse communities.”

There is some reason to hurry: Just five seats separate the two parties, and both have a clear shot at the next House majority. Candidate recruitment for 2024 can start right away, without having to wait for nationwide redistricting to shake out like in the last election cycle.

Republicans have already chosen their chairman, Rep. Richard Hudson (RN.C.). In late December 2020, Maloney had already taken the helm of the DCCC and named an executive director.

Maloney’s DCCC ended up surpassing expectations, with an expected GOP wave in November instead turning into a small and ungovernable Republican majority. But his tenure drew widespread criticism from all corners of the Democratic caucus — for everything from meddling in GOP primaries to not investing enough in Latino seats. And it ended with an embarrassing personal defeat: Maloney himself became a target in his district and lost to Michael Lawler after an avalanche of Republican outside spending.

This year, the party delayed its decision. Democrats led by Reps. Susan DelBene (D-Wash.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) led a push, which was approved in a lopsided internal vote, to change caucus rules and make the DCCC chair position an appointed one, not elected. It’s a reversion to the caucus’ pre-2017 procedure. Jeffries technically has until February to choose, according to the new caucus rules.

Part of the problem: A sizable portion of House Democrats seem unsure about their two declared candidates. Each would bring their own baggage — and assets — to the campaign arm.

Bera, who ousted a GOP incumbent 10 years ago, was the chair of the committee’s Frontline program for endangered incumbents in 2022. He is widely expected to bring back some old DCCC operatives if selected as chair, including Danny Kazin, who led the committee’s independent expenditure arms in 2018, according to three people familiar with the situation.

But union leaders have quietly opposed his candidacy, stemming from his 2015 decision to side with President Barack Obama to fast-track the Trade Promotion Authority that allowed him to make trade deals with less input from Congress.

Meanwhile, Cardenas has been the subject of a large opposition research dump that relitigated some already-public claims. His allies suspect that Bera’s supporters were behind it, but Bera’s office has denied any involvement.

Cardenas, who represents a safe Democratic seat in the Los Angeles area, is endorsed by the powerful Congressional Hispanic Caucus, a group that tussled somewhat with the DCCC in 2020. Latino Democrats grew increasingly frustrated when the campaign arm refused to invest significant funds in competitive races in South Texas and southern Arizona, as well as when the House super PAC closely aligned with Nancy Pelosi spent against a Latina candidate, now-Rep.-elect Andrea Salinasin an open Oregon seat.

“We were disappointed with some of the work that they did in Texas, and of course, Oregon,” said Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas), who is supporting Cardenas.

Cardenas also led BOLD PAC, the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and drew praise from fellow Democrats for building it into a fundraising powerhouse, bolstered in part through his own donor network.

Still, some of the top Latino members have indicated that while they would prefer one of their own at the DCCC, they will still support Jeffries’ choice regardless.

“The most important thing is obviously that, No. 1, we have a very qualified person. It’s great that there’s going to be a Latino on there potentially because we’re a growing demographic, very key to the coalition that you need to hold the House,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), who chaired BOLD PAC this cycle.