House Dems choosing sides

The race to be the next vice chair of the House Democratic caucus accelerated yesterday when Rep. Jan Schakowsky (Ill.) released an impressive list of 25 supporters, only to be outflanked by Rep. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), who announced the backing of all of New York’s House Democrats, bringing his known support from 16 to 32 members.

The vice-chair position will be vacated when the current occupant, Rep. Jim Clyburn (S.C.), seeks to become caucus chairman. That position will become available when the current chairman, Rep. Robert Menendez (N.J.), who is term-limited in that post, attempts to leave for the Senate, either by appointment in early 2006 or by election later that year.

Rep. John Larson (Conn.), the third candidate in the race for vice chair, did not return phone calls by press time.

Signaling her intent to represent all wings of the caucus, Schakowsky tapped Rep. Jerry Costello (Ill.), a veteran lawmaker with more centrist credentials than Schakowsky, to head her campaign.

“It’s a broad-based whip team. That’s one of the values of Jerry Costello, a middle-of-the-roader,” Schakowsky said.

As a lawmaker who is close with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and is an official member of the caucus’s leadership, Rep. George Miller (Calif.) stands out on Schakowsky’s list as one of her more influential supporters. Along with Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), who is backing Larson, Miller co-chairs the Steering and Policy Committee.

Before Crowley’s late-afternoon announcement of his support from his fellow New Yorkers, Schakowsky’s 25 public supporters surpassed the known backers of either of her two rivals. Larson has only unveiled his campaign team, composed of DeLauro and Reps. John Murtha (Pa.) and Mike Capuano (Mass.).

Schakowsky’s list of supporters is laden with lawmakers from the progressive wing of the party and includes strong support from the Congressional Black Caucus.

The following 24 members will act as her whips: Melissa Bean (Ill.) Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Lois Capps (Calif.), John Conyers (Mich.), Elijah Cummings (Md.), Danny Davis (Ill.), Susan Davis (Calif.), Lane Evans (Ill.), Sam Farr (Calif.), Raul Grijalva (Ariz.), Luis Gutierrez (Ill.), Jesse Jackson Jr. (Ill.), Eddie Bernice Johnson (Texas), Stephanie Tubbs Jones (Ohio), Dennis Kucinich (Ohio), Daniel Lipinski (Ill.), Juanita Millender-McDonald (Calif.), Miller, Bobby Rush (Ill.), Allyson Schwartz (Pa.), Bennie Thompson (Miss.), Maxine Waters (Calif.), Diane Watson (Calif.) and Lynn Woolsey (Calif.).

“These people represent a broad array of the caucus,” Schakowsky said. “A lot of people on those lists might happily identify with the progressive label, but not everyone votes that way all the time.”

Schakowsky and Crowley differed on whether yesterday’s public releases would force more lawmakers to declare their preference, with Schakowsky predicting that waves of House lawmakers would make their preferences known in the coming weeks.

“This may give people the confidence to declare themselves,” Schakowsky said.

But Crowley said he wasn’t certain how unannounced lawmakers would react to the growing rolls of declared supporters.

“We’re going to be with this for a long haul. I’ve said all along that this is a marathon and not a sprint,” he said.

Couching his New York support in terms of personality and not policy, Crowley said that the diversity of his delegation proved that he can get along with just about anyone in the caucus.

Crowley already had the backing of the other three members of his 20-member home-state delegation.

“We all come with different backgrounds,” he said.

“Ultimately it comes down to relationship with people over the years. Personality has as much to do with as policy or fundraising.”

He singled out Charlie Rangel (N.Y.) as one of his key supporters, indicating that he planned to use him as an emissary to his undecided colleagues. “Charlie Rangel and what he brings to the table, his leadership, his personality — it’s very strong, very powerful,” he said.

Schakowsky also said that her supporters would be trying to persuade their friends to support her candidacy.

“These are people that are publicly willing to do more outreach independent of me, to their allies and their friends,” she said.

In addition to the New Yorkers, Crowley’s list of supporters includes Artur Davis (Ala.), Al Green (Texas) Peter DeFazio (Ore.), Alcee Hastings (Fla.), Kendrick Meek (Fla.), Jim Cooper (Tenn.), Adam Smith (Wash.), Barney Frank (Mass.), Neil Abercrombie (Hawaii), Bart Gordon (Tenn.), Dennis Moore (Kan.), Dan Boren (Okla.) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (Calif.).