The man with two tough jobs

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) has two tough jobs.

As assistant to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), he is rounding up votes for the healthcare reform bill that could be voted on this weekend.

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As head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Van Hollen is working to elect and reelect Democrats this November.

In some ways, these jobs are similar. In others, they are vastly different. And they also, arguably, work against each other.

Van Hollen won’t say this publicly, but he wants some Democrats in conservative-leaning districts to vote no. A Democratic “no” vote in red districts could shield the incumbent from the expected GOP wave in November.

Of course, the Maryland Democrat also wants the bill to pass. That would show that President Barack Obama and the Congress can work together to enact legislation that Democrats have been trying to pass for decades. Regardless of what Republicans say, Democrats would be better off passing healthcare reform than not.

If every member votes and all Republicans reject the bill, Democratic leaders can afford a maximum of 37 defections.

The key for Van Hollen is getting bang for the buck on these defections. In others words, he wants most of the “no” votes to be from politically vulnerable districts that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won in the 2008 presidential contest.

Typically, in close votes, these members will be held back to vote at the end of the roll call. When the majority gets the clinching vote, the politically vulnerable members then register their votes — most of them against their party.

The problem for Democrats is that there are more than a few members who will sail to reelection who are planning to vote no on health reform.

Liberal Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) is one of them. He faced a competitive primary last cycle but is not in any electoral danger in 2010.

Earlier this month, Obama privately urged him to vote yes. That didn’t work.

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On Monday, Obama went public with his plea. Furthermore, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) is leaning on his old colleague in the House. Kucinich hasn’t indicated how he’ll vote, but one thing is clear: He is under enormous political pressure.

Other Democrats who aren’t facing tough reelections who are leaning no include Reps. Luis Gutierrez (Ill.), Collin Peterson (Minn.) and Gene Taylor (Miss.). Some on Capitol Hill believe Gutierrez and Peterson, a committee chairman, will vote yes. Both legislators, however, have not shied away from criticizing their leaders.

Van Hollen would dearly love to secure their votes, but he may not get them.