Lawmakers jockey for NRCC, DCCC

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) claimed support from 81 Republican lawmakers yesterday in his bid to become chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) in the 110th Congress. The support of this many lawmakers would force his two competitors to depend on a second ballot to have a shot at winning the vote on Friday.

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) claimed support from 81 Republican lawmakers yesterday in his bid to become chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) in the 110th Congress. The support of this many lawmakers would force his two competitors to depend on a second ballot to have a shot at winning the vote on Friday.

The ballot is secret, however, and Sessions did not release the names of all of his backers. With the outcome of some individual House races still uncertain, GOP aides estimated that it will take about 100 votes to win.

Meanwhile, Speaker-in-waiting Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will soon select the next chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). Democrats hold their leadership elections on Thursday, but it is unclear exactly when Pelosi will make her decision.

The next chairmen will start from different vantage points than the current chairmen: House Democrats will try to hold and expand the majority while Republicans try to rebuild their majority.  

Sessions, who yesterday publicly named 40 of his supporters, appears to have a lead over Reps. Phil English (R-Pa.) and Tom Cole (R-Okla.).

But lawmakers have been known to inflate their numbers in leadership elections. Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) claimed he had the necessary votes to become majority leader against Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) earlier this year. Blunt fell a few votes short on the first ballot, and Boehner prevailed on the final vote.

Responding to Sessions’s letter, Cole yesterday said in a statement, “I live right across the Red River and I know a Texas bluff when I see one. [He] doesn’t have a majority of the votes. The NRCC race is going to be a two-ballot race.”  

Sessions says he is running to “overhaul the 1990s campaign model still dominant in congressional campaigns.” He appeared to rebuff outgoing NRCC chairman Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.), who consistently criticized Democratic candidate recruitment efforts this cycle.

“The Democrat margin that we see today began with outstanding candidate recruitment,” Sessions wrote.

Nevertheless, Republican aides said all three candidates have been weakened by last Tuesday’s drubbing at the polls. It’s just unclear who has been hurt the most.

Sessions headed the NRCC incumbent retention program in a cycle when Democrats picked up 27 seats, including that of Sessions’s chief whip, Rep. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.). Moreover, with three other Texans running for House leadership positions, the Texas delegation, which will have 20 Republicans, appears to have no unified position on which post it wants most.

When the GOP leadership elections are held Friday, the last vote will be on the NRCC chairman. If Texas Reps. Joe Barton, Kay Granger, and/or John Carter win their respective leadership bids, GOP lawmakers might feel less compelled to vote for another Texan. Meanwhile, English and Cole are counting on “Bush fatigue” to help them attract support.

English, who led the NRCC’s incumbent retention program in 2002 and 2004, lost some key supporters after four Pennsylvanians and five Ways and Means Committee members lost reelection. Northeastern and upstate New York Republicans also were ousted last week.

Cole’s base of support comes from members of the class of 2002; Cole also is the perceived choice of Speaker Dennis Hastert’s (R-Ill.) staff and some of Hastert’s top allies on K Street. The support of Hastert’s staff might have strengthened his candidacy prior to the scandal involving ex-Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.). But now that support could be perceived as a liability.    

The public jockeying among Democratic lawmakers is less intense because there is no election.

“We need to pick somebody that can do strategy, recruitment, communication, raise the money and also help campaign,” said outgoing DCCC chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), adding that his party will remain on offense and that he is holding a recruitment meeting on Thursday for 2008.

Democratic Reps. Mike Thompson (Calif.), Chris Van Hollen (Md.), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), Artur Davis (Ala.) and Kendrick Meek (Fla.) have been mentioned as possible candidates.

Davis, Thompson, Van Hollen and Wasserman Schultz served as Emanuel’s deputies. Thompson was charged with helping the most endangered Democratic incumbents while Van Hollen and Wasserman Schultz raised money for the DCCC’s Red to Blue program and served as spokespeople.

Van Hollen said his colleagues are encouraging him to campaign for the post, but he has demurred.

“I’m not campaigning,” he said, adding that he has made no phone calls and sent no letters.

Thompson appears to have the inside track; he is close to Pelosi and his background as a pro-business Blue Dog is viewed as an asset. But Democratic sources said that he draws from the same California fundraising base as Pelosi and the position demands a figure who could widen the pool of donors.

Wasserman Schultz, who is in her second term, might not be seasoned enough, said several Democratic sources. Yet, Emanuel — in his second term — won control of the House as DCCC chair.

“Her intention is to work hard for the Democratic leadership to maintain and expand this majority. The speculation about being DCCC chair is flattering, and it is something she takes seriously,” said a Democratic aide.

Some Democrats floated the idea of appointing a non-member to the post, Democratic sources said. But a non-member of Congress would lack the cachet to raise money, and such an appointment  would remove an avenue of advancement for members seeking to move up in leadership, become a committee chairman or run for higher office.