Gillibrand strong candidate to lead DSCC

Senior Democratic aides say Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is a strong candidate to take over the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee next year, a prime launching pad into the party leadership.

Gillibrand could easily win the job, but there are doubts whether she would want to sign up for another grueling cycle of fundraising after running for election in 2010 and again in 2012.

Gillibrand has two young sons and might want to take a break from campaign politics after running in two consecutive election cycles. 

“There’d be a lot of interest in her for that,” said a Democratic aide. “She’d be freshly reelected. She has a natural fundraising base. The question is whether she’d want it. She’s had to raise money two cycles in a row and she has young children.”

It’s a tough call. Serving as DSCC chairman can serve as a springboard to the upper ranks of the Democratic leadership, as it did for Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.).

But the 2014 election cycle will be a tough one for Democrats. They have 20 seats to defend, while Republicans must protect 13.

Senate Democratic incumbents also face tougher races. Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) are particularly vulnerable.

Democratic aides point to several of Gillibrand’s strengths. She is well-versed in the latest campaign tactics, her home state is one of the nation’s biggest fundraising bases, she has a close relationship with Senate Democratic political guru Schumer and she knows what it takes to win in Republican-leaning territory.

Gillibrand came to Congress after defeating former Rep. John Sweeney (R) in a traditionally Republican district in upstate eastern New York. The 20th district was one of the few in New York to vote for President George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004.

Her access to deep-pocketed donors might be the strongest selling point, however.

Schumer, her political mentor, captured the Senate from Republican control in 2006 by hitting up New York donors to significantly outraise the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). Schumer served as DSCC chairman in the 2006 and 2008 cycles, when Democrats expanded their majority to 59 seats. 

“Most of the time you need someone with a big fundraising base. That’s why you have Cornyn from Texas and Schumer,” said a Democratic strategist in reference to NRSC Chairman John Cornyn (Texas).

Gillibrand’s office declined to say whether she would take the job.

“Sen. Gillibrand is solely focused on solutions that will improve the economy for New Yorkers,” said Bethany Lesser, a spokeswoman for Gillibrand.

Two other promising candidates are Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who are ambitious and hardworking but represent states with smaller fundraising bases.

Democratic strategists are split over whether Whitehouse would be a good fit atop the Senate Democratic campaign committee.

One ranked him ahead of Gillibrand and Klobuchar because he is a strong advocate of liberal positions, such as combating global warming, and is one of the most articulate members of the Democratic Conference.

“You’re going to need liberal money. He’s smart, he’s articulate, he’s a workhorse. I probably see him ahead of Gillibrand,” said the strategist.

Another veteran Democratic strategist said Whitehouse’s small fundraising base in Rhode Island would be a liability.

The strategist also questioned whether Whitehouse is politically oriented enough for the job. Global warming, a subject Whitehouse discusses often on the Senate floor, has been abandoned as an issue by most Democrats.

Whitehouse declined to say whether the job would pique his interest. 

“Don’t even go there,” he quipped.

But he subtly acknowledged that he might be asked to take it.

When a reporter observed that he could be a strong candidate and would no longer be running for reelection, he said: “You’re not the only person who will notice that fact.”

"Sen. Klobuchar is focused on her work in Minnesota," said Linden Zakula, a spokesman for Klobuchar.

One Democratic strategist said Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) are prolific fundraisers and members of the class of 2006 who would make good DSCC chairmen.

It is by no means certain, however, that Brown and McCaskill will be in the Senate next year. They are in the middle of tough races, and Republican-allied outside groups have already spent millions of dollars to defeat them.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), another member of the Democratic class of 2006, said definitively Tuesday that he had no interest in serving as DSCC chairman.

He jokingly suggested that leaders ask the current chairwoman, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), to stay in the job for another cycle.

Democratic aides and strategists say there is virtually zero chance of that happening. Murray did her leadership and caucus a big favor by stretching herself to chair the committee after serving an earlier stint in the 2002 election cycle.

Murray is the fourth-ranking member of the Senate Democratic leadership, chairwoman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee and a senior member of the Appropriations Committee.

The chairmanship of the DSCC typically goes to more junior senators who are ambitious to move up in the leadership and have fewer committee responsibilities than senior colleagues.

Senate Democratic leaders asked Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) to chair the DSCC for the 2012 cycle, but he turned them down after winning a tough 2010 contest.

“The job usually goes to people who have been in the Senate a shorter time,” said a Democratic strategist. “The longer they’re in the Senate, the more responsibility they have.”

Updated at 6:30 p.m.