Crowley maintains lead in public supporters

House Democrats go to the ballot box today to select a victor in the year-long campaign for caucus vice chairman, a race marked by both intense competition and relative comity among the three candidates, Reps. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), John Larson (Conn.) and Jan Schakowsky (Ill.).

As of last night, Crowley led the pool with 72 public endorsements, more than a third of the caucus’s 205 members and enough to assure him a place in an anticipated second round of balloting between the top two finishers. Schakowsky counted 56 public backers and Larson 18, although Larson has adopted a policy of not releasing the names of supporters.

Among Crowley’s supporters are four new names announced yesterday: Reps. Ellen Tauscher (Calif.), Ron Kind (Wis.), Jim Costa (Calif.) and Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas).

Although a large portion of the caucus remains publicly uncommitted, sources close to the race said that most members have made private commitments and that fewer than a dozen remain truly undecided.

The position of vice chairman is the fourth-ranking post in House Democratic leadership, a post with few official duties, prompting some observers to dub the race a popularity contest. Indeed, many members do make their decisions based on personal relationships, but the position can be more than ceremonial, often becoming influential depending on the disposition and ambition of the officeholder.

All three candidates were in the throes of last-minute campaigning yesterday, shoring up support and organizing get-out-the-vote efforts in anticipation of a potentially tight race.

The conventional wisdom in the race is that no candidate will garner a majority of the votes on the first ballot but that most likely Crowley and Schakowsky will finish ahead of Larson and advance to a second ballot.

In such a scenario, the second-ballot choices of Larson’s supporters will likely determine the winner. All three candidates have been gathering second-ballot commitments from their colleagues for some time.

Larson, for his part, disputes the notion that he trails the other candidates, pronouncing himself “sublimely confident” about his prospects of making it to the second ballot.

“I’m terribly optimistic that things are going great for us. … Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated,” he said, channeling Mark Twain, a Connecticut resident, he points out.

The caucus will convene this morning to hear last-minute pitches for the candidates and to cast votes. The meeting, the first chaired by Rep. Jim Clyburn (S.C.), who took over from now-Sen. Robert Menendez (N.J.), will begin with a quorum call and proceed to 15-minute presentations by each campaign.

Schakowsky supporters will speak first, as determined by lots drawn in December. Schakowsky has selected Reps. George Miller (Calif.), Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), John Dingell (Mich.), Bennie Thompson (Miss.), Dave Obey (Wis.) and Ra