Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), after a long period of indecision, accepted the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) chairmanship for the upcoming election cycle.
He stares down a task similar to that faced by outgoing Chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) last cycle: protecting his party’s majority despite the high number of Democratic incumbents, many in red states, facing reelection in 2014.
"This will not be an easy job, but I feel strongly that families and small businesses in my state have a lot riding on our success,” he said. “Coloradans, like all Americans, need a U.S. Senate that fights for them — not the special interests. The DSCC has helped stop the rise of the Tea Party and given ordinary families more voices in Washington. I look forward to working once again with my friend Guy Cecil and I know the caucus is enormously grateful for his continued service.”
Bennet declined the position for the 2012 cycle, partly because of the difficulty of the task, which ultimately led to Murray being offered, and taking, the job. Republicans were an early favorite to win control of the upper chamber this year and Murray’s standing in the party increased after she kept Democrats in the majority. She will be Senate Budget Committee chairwoman next year.
The DSCC chairmanship requires long hours spent traveling from state to state to raise funds and recruit strong candidates to run.
Former DSCC Chairman Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.) demurred when asked what was next for the committee, offering only that "we're always thinking and working," but he did have high praise for Bennet.
"He'll be a great DSCC chair. He's smart, he's hard-working, he's dedicated, and he's gonna be great," Schumer said.
Murray's efforts in 2012 helped all 21 Democratic incumbents up for reelection retain their seats, and expanded the Democratic majority by two seats, one of those being held by an Independent who plans to caucus with Democrats.
In 2014, Republicans are seen as having the stronger position. Twenty Democrats face reelection, with seven in states Republican Mitt Romney won. A number of those Democrats, namely Sens. Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), Tim Johnson (S.D.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.) and Tom Harkin (Iowa), could retire, and while sources say Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plays a large role in convincing them to stay on, Bennet must finesse some of those lawmakers as well.
Only 13 Republicans are up for reelection in 2014. Most are in deep-red states where Democrats will have little chance of mounting much offense unless the lawmakers retire or Republicans in those states elect untested candidates in primaries who undermine their own bids with gaffes, as did the GOP Senate candidates in Missouri and Indiana this cycle.
And Republicans have gotten a head start in recruitment: Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) has already announced for her state’s Senate seat. And former South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds (R) said he will run for his state’s seat. Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) was picked to head the National Republican Senatorial Committee late last month.
If Democrats have any hope of playing offense, as Murray did in 2012, and defending the seats that will open up, Bennet will have to recruit solid Democratic contenders. Sources say he’s well-suited for the task, as he’s personable and relates well to colleagues on Capitol Hill and constituents back home.
He has experience, too, in running a tough contest in a swing state: His own contentious 2010 election, sources say, gave him the experience and the credibility he’ll need to support his colleagues looking to eke out a win in red or purple states this cycle.
But along with his people skills and political savvy, Bennet brings to the job some policy baggage that could prove harmful to the party’s goals.
The Colorado senator is a prominent critic of K Street and has proposed a number of lobbying reforms, including a lifetime ban on former members becoming lobbyists and a six-year ban on former Capitol Hill staffers lobbying their old bosses.
This could prove problematic for the DSCC, as the committee gets major donations from lobbyists, and they’ll need as large a sum as ever to protect the 20 Democrats up in 2014.
And Bennet is reported to want a spot on the powerful Senate Finance Committee, but committee assignments haven't come out yet.
Bennet was offered the post by Reid on Nov. 12, and has taken the past three weeks to mull it over. When confronted in the halls of the Capitol on Tuesday, prior to the announcement, an aide blocked a reporter from asking questions while Bennet ran to votes.
It's unclear why Bennet agreed to take the post this time, but sources have said he was unwilling to come on board to the DSCC if its current executive director, Guy Cecil, did not continue in his post for another cycle. Cecil will stay on the job.
— This story was updated at 3:55 p.m.