Dems recruiting New York rep to challenge Pelosi

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A small group of frustrated House Democrats is agitating for big changes, trying to draft Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) to challenge Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for the top leadership spot in the next Congress, a handful of lawmakers familiar with the campaign told The Hill. 

The recruitment effort comes as a chorus of rank-and-file Democrats — particularly younger members — are up in arms over the party’s messaging and outreach strategy after a torturous election cycle that will put the Republicans in charge of the White House and both chambers of Congress next year. 

Those voices are seeking a new direction for the party, one that appeals to a broader range of voters and puts the Democrats in a position to win back power in 2018. Some see Crowley, the gregarious and imposing 6-foot-5-inch vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus and a prolific fundraiser, as the figure to lead the way.

The odds are slim that the nine-term Queens lawmaker would accept: Though he’s had a few run-ins with Pelosi in the past, the two have moved onto the same page, especially since Crowley joined her leadership team. And Crowley, who’s very close to Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the Democratic whip, is highly unlikely to attempt to leapfrog the No. 2 Democrat by taking on Pelosi.

Still, those dynamics haven’t stopped the recruitment effort. 

“I don’t think [Crowley] has decided yet but he will make a decision soon,” said one Democratic lawmaker who spoke with Crowley this week. “This is a risky decision.”

“He’s a good man, a good leader and he’s liked by all,” the source replied when asked why Crowley was being recruited. 

Crowley’s office did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday evening. 

Despite the grumbling, no challenger to Pelosi has emerged. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) has been flirting with a bid for leader for the past week but hasn’t pulled the trigger.

Pelosi on Wednesday announced her official run with a letter to colleagues calling for party unity and an “innovative strategy” for countering the incoming Donald Trump administration. In an unusual move, she also proclaimed she’s already secured support from two-thirds of the caucus — an unveiled warning to potential challengers that they need not dare.

But some members aren’t convinced. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), who spearheaded the successful charge to delay this week’s leadership elections, suggested Pelosi’s math might be wrong.

“I haven’t seen her list,” Moulton said Wednesday. “But she said that the overwhelming view of the caucus was to hold elections on Thursday, and obviously that was not the overwhelming view.” 

The full Democratic caucus is now set to meet Thursday morning.

Crowley, 54, has served on Pelosi’s leadership team since 2013, but the two have had their differences in the past. When Pelosi and Hoyer ran against each other for the Democratic whip post in 2001, Crowley volunteered to help with Hoyer’s vote-counting operation. 

Pelosi won that race and has held the top Democratic job in the House since 2003. When Crowley sought the job of House Democrats’ campaign chairman in 2010, Pelosi went instead with another New York Democrat, Rep. Steve Israel. 

“There is history between them,” said a second Democratic lawmaker with knowledge that colleagues have been reaching out to Crowley. But the second source, who knows Crowley well, said he may be “risk averse” to take on Pelosi.

Pelosi has been informed of the effort to draft Crowley, said the source, who is a publicly supportive Pelosi ally.

A Pelosi spokesman declined to comment.

But Pelosi allies are confident she’ll have no problem fending off a challenge if anyone jumps in the race.

“I have no doubt she’s going to win, and win in a landslide,” said Rep.-elect Ro Khanna, a fellow San Francisco Bay Area Democrat. “She has nearly unanimous support from the freshman class.” 

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