Israel eyes Democratic leadership slot, but not at DCCC

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Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) is adamant this is his last term as chairman — but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to leave House leadership.

Israel told The Hill in an exclusive interview that he will not seek a third term after the 2014 elections but wants to keep a seat at the leadership table. That could lead to some interesting machinations next winter, unless someone in House leadership decides to retire.

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“I've really enjoyed doing this for two terms, but I believe that two terms is the maximum that anybody should chair a committee,” Israel told The Hill. “I will support our leadership's decision and choice for DCCC chair as long as it is not Steve Israel.”

The congressman, a close confidante of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said he’d like to remain in a top spot with the party, though. 

“I've always enjoyed being in leadership. I hope to continue to have a voice in leadership. But that's not my decision, that's the decision of my colleagues in leadership and in the caucus. But I've really enjoyed being in leadership,” Israel said. 

It’s unclear how that would occur without a retirement or the creation of a new leadership role, however. All five Democratic leadership slots are occupied by members who have shown no signs of retiring or stepping aside. 

Israel has long been expected to step aside as DCCC head after this term, and his trio of deputies are all said to be interested in the slot. He had kind words for all three, praising Reps. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Jim Himes (D-Conn.).

“Donna Edwards has done an extraordinary job of recruiting. Jared Polis is one of our best fundraisers and just has a real sense of what has to happen in our campaigns. Jim Himes has just crushed it as our national finance chair. We have newer members like Lois Frankel, who got 100 percent of our members to pay dues. And there are so many others,” he said. “I'm sure our leader will choose somebody who is both operational and somebody who has a good handle on the issues to succeed me.” 

Israel wasn’t as keen on predicting what will happen in 2014, repeatedly refusing to prognosticate about whether Democrats have any chance at retaking the House (which Pelosi has said is possible and most prognosticators think isn’t), win seats (which looks tough) or hold losses to a minimum (which most Democrats quietly admit would be a win).

“Our job is not to predict, it is to prepare,” he said. “The one thing I can tell you about this cycle is, it is so volatile, for us and for them. I will see a poll on a Frontliner [incumbent] or a challenger one week that makes me grin from ear to ear, and then a week later, I will see a poll on the same candidate that makes me frown. Republicans know it, and I know it. It is an extremely volatile environment.”

Israel said the biggest challenge the party faces this fall is midterm voter drop-off, and said they were working to counter that by doubling the DCCC’s historic budget on field operations and have 500 paid field staff, the most in the campaign’s history. 

He downplayed concerns that President Obama’s poor approval ratings could hurt Democrats, pointing out that many of the most competitive House races are in Illinois, California and New York, states where Obama’s numbers have held up a bit better.

He also said that two of his party's two most popular surrogates, Bill and Hillary Clinton, were likely to appear on the campaign trail more and more between now and November. 

“I've had several conversations with the Clintons,” he said. “She has said that she wants to be engaged. … As soon as they're ready to work out some of the logistical details, we are ready to go.”

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