President Obama’s decision to keep Debbie Wasserman Schultz as party chief will have her at the Democratic helm through the midterm election — a time when the president’s party often loses seats.
Obama on Monday asked the party to reelect the Florida congresswoman as Democratic National Committee chairwoman — making her selection a mere formality and displaying confidence in the woman who helped him win reelection and the party pick up House and Senate seats.
Now Wasserman Schultz will seek to replicate Democrats’ 2012 winning formula under much tougher circumstances.
The demographically diverse coalition of voters Obama and Democrats rely on tends to stay at home in non-presidential elections, and the DNC will need to reincorporate the powerful Obama for America turnout operation into its own organization in order to keep the Senate and win back the House.
The party faces a difficult Senate map, with many incumbents running in red states. More than a dozen Democrats up in 2014 represent swing or red states, while just one Republican-held seat leans toward the Democrats.
On the House side, Republican used the redistricting process to reduce the number of competitive seats and lock in the GOP’s 2010 gains, making it harder for Democrats to win control of the lower chamber. Second-term presidents’ parties often suffer losses during midterm elections, making Wasserman Schultz’s job even harder, though one bright spot for the party is gubernatorial races, where Republicans are defending many more seats.
Accomplishing any gains will be difficult. The younger and non-white voters who fueled Obama’s wins did not show up in nearly the same numbers in 2010, giving Republicans a major edge in that election. Getting them to the polls without Obama on the ticket could prove difficult once again.
“Going forward, the biggest challenge will be taking the successes we had this year in a presidential year and using those to build the party and set us up for successes in years where there’s typically far lower turnout,” Frank Leone, a Democratic National Committeeman from Virginia, told The Hill. “That’s the biggest challenge — to translate the extraordinary things his campaign was able to do into off-year elections.”
Leone said an early test will come in 2013 in Virginia’s gubernatorial election. He noted that while the DNC and Obama for America, the president’s campaign team, have worked closely together during the campaigns and often share office space, they would need to further integrate their structures.
“[Obama for America] operates as part of the DNC and with connection with the DNC and with the state parties but there are sometimes separate staff and separate lists. We have been doing some coordinating, but there needs to be more,” he said. “OFA was an unusual structure, and it’ll be interesting to see how it evolves over the next four years.”
A number of Democrats argued Wasserman Schultz was well-positioned to accomplish that goal, pointing to her appeal to female voters and the Jewish community; her help in winning heavily diverse Florida for Obama; and her role in bringing in President Clinton as a leading Obama surrogate and unifying the Clinton and Obama camps of the party (she’d been a Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonTrump administration to honor fallen workers Conway: I have 'no idea' who is leading Democratic Party Obama to net 0K for Wall Street speech: report MORE backer during the 2008 primaries).
At times, she had a strained relationship with Obama’s White House team, though his choice to keep her on indicates reports of those tensions might have been overblown.
“Debbie is uniquely qualified because she’s coming in with all this experience. She’ll keep the momentum going; she understands what the state parties and grassroots activists can do,” said Democratic National Committee Vice Chairman Raymond Buckley, who also heads New Hampshire’s Democratic Party. “The [Obama for America] organization and their contacts and information will be incorporated into our operations heading into the 2014 elections. The lessons learned in 2012 at the national level will be implemented in the states.”
It also remains to be seen how she and the DNC will interact with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and how much focus she and Obama will give to their priority races. Obama did not give money to those organizations in 2012, though his ground game spending benefited all Democrats, and it’s unclear whether he’ll contribute to them directly this time around.
The job also keeps Wasserman Schultz in a high-profile position within the party at a time when the House Democratic leadership is set.
The election for DNC chairman will take place when the committee members meet in Washington on Jan. 22, one day after Obama is sworn in for his second term, according to a DNC official.
The term is usually four years.
Her counterpart, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, also is expected to be reelected to a second term.