Ambitious House lawmakers look for promotions

The House of Representatives is always full of ambitious politicians, young and old — and many are looking for a promotion this cycle.

Conservative Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) will launch a bid for the Senate on Monday. In Missouri, a quartet of House Republicans are all exploring a bid for the seat held by retiring GOP Sen. Roy Blunt. And at least five House Democrats are eyeing a possible Senate bid to replace retiring GOP Sen. Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania.  

Allies of Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) are aggressively lobbying Gov. Gavin Newsom to appoint the Intelligence Committee chairman as attorney general of the most populous state. Democratic Reps. Greg Stanton and Ruben Gallego are being encouraged to run for Arizona governor. Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio) is mulling a GOP primary challenge against Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine.

And that’s just a fraction of the House members contemplating a bid for the Senate, governor’s mansion or other statewide office. Of course, not everyone will ultimately run, but the lower chamber has often proved to be a good stepping-stone to higher office.

“It’s the nature of the beast,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who has served in the House since 1993 and has seen dozens of his colleagues run for the Senate, governor or president.

A spate of retirement announcements in the Senate has set off a scramble among House lawmakers looking for their next move. In Missouri, four House Republicans — Reps. Ann Wagner, Vicky Hartzler, Jason Smith and Billy Long — are weighing potential bids to replace Blunt, who rose to House majority whip before winning his Senate seat in 2010.

“There’s a bunch of us in Missouri looking at it. We’re all friends … but you gotta look at it,” Wagner, who passed on a Senate bid in 2018, told The Hill. “My district is 34 percent of the GOP primary electorate so, of course, I’m very interested.

“Everyone knows I’ve had an interest in taking the work I’ve done in the House to the U.S. Senate, to fight back on this Biden agenda and get something done for Missouri. It would be just a great honor.”

Long, a former auctioneer, said he’s “seriously considering” a Senate bid and won’t get in “just to be a stalking horse,” while Hartzler said she’s forming a Senate exploratory committee. Smith, a former member of GOP leadership and a good fundraiser, would be a strong candidate but he’s also in line to be Budget Committee chairman if Republicans flip the House next year.

In Pennsylvania, at least five House Democrats — Reps. Madeleine Dean, Brendan Boyle, Conor Lamb Chrissy Houlahan and Susan Wild — are testing the waters for a Senate bid following Toomey’s announcement he won’t seek a third term. Some are also looking at the wide-open race to succeed term-limited Gov. Tom Wolf (D).

“Loving my work, keeping an open mind,” said Dean, who represents a suburban area outside of Philadelphia and served as one of the Democratic prosecutors in former President Trump’s impeachment trial this year.

In Ohio, Rep. Tim Ryan (D) has expressed interest in running to replace retiring GOP Sen. Rob Portman, while Davidson, a staunch conservative who won Speaker John Boehner’s seat after his 2015 retirement, said he may launch a primary challenge against the incumbent GOP governor over his handling of COVID-19 pandemic.    

“Frankly, I’m studying the governor’s race right now. If I take a pass on the governor’s race, then I’ll probably take a look at the Senate race in ’24” against Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Davidson told The Hill. 

He’s contemplating a primary challenge against DeWine because he “couldn’t continue to disagree privately with the governor” over COVID-19 restrictions and gun control, Davidson said.

Before they make a decision on their future, many of these House lawmakers are gauging support, reaching out to political donors, local party activists and voters back home. Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), the leader of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus, said he’ll make a call “by the end of the month” about whether to challenge Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), the former astronaut who just ousted a GOP incumbent in a special election in the fall. 

There is plenty of recent precedent of House lawmakers winning higher office. In 2018, Democrats Jared Polis, Tim Walz and Michelle Lujan Grisham — all former House members — were elected as the governors of Colorado, Minnesota and New Mexico, respectively. Former GOP Rep. Kristi Noem won the governor’s race in South Dakota that same year; she’s now mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2024. 

And in 2020, with a bottleneck in the top echelon of the House Democratic leadership team, then-Assistant House Speaker Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) found success by winning a Senate seat.

Other younger, ambitious House Democrats with nowhere to go in the crowded leadership structure are also looking for other ways to rise. Schiff, the Democrats’ star impeachment manager in Trump’s 2020 Senate trial, had no comment about his reported interest in the California attorney general job. But Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has repeatedly lobbied Newsom to appoint her close ally to replace Xavier Becerra, who resigned as the state’s top cop after the Senate confirmed him as President Biden’s Health and Human Services secretary.

The attorney general post has proved to be a launching pad. Becerra, a former House Democratic leader, ended up in the Biden Cabinet; his predecessor, Kamala Harris, is now vice president.

And two other House Democrats recently joined the Biden cabinet: Marcia Fudge is Housing and Urban Development secretary and Deb Haaland made history as the first Native American Interior secretary.

In most cases, simply floating one’s name for higher office can help build a lawmaker’s political brand, but it can also carry risks. New York GOP Reps. Lee Zeldin and Elise Stefanik are being encouraged to challenge embattled Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who’s facing multiple allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate touching.  

“We’re getting a lot of encouragement right now, and I’m not ruling anything out,” Stefanik said.

But on Friday, another possible Cuomo challenger who’s been raising his profile, Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), was accused by a former lobbyist of sexual misconduct. Reed called the allegations “not accurate.”

Down in Florida, Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist finds himself in a unique situation.

He served as the Republican governor of Florida from 2007 to 2011, then won a Tampa Bay House seat as a Democrat in 2016. He’s now seriously considering launching a 2022 bid against GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, himself a former House member. 

“I think Florida needs help. I’m concerned with the current leadership there. Florida is always in my heart and I care very deeply about it. Having served as attorney general and commissioner of education in the state, I’m just concerned about the state’s future and the current administration,” Crist said in an interview outside the House chamber. 

“It’s really a heart and soul decision. I enjoy serving here [in Congress] representing my hometown of St. Petersburg-Tampa Bay. But there is a real pull to seriously look at going back to Florida, if the people are willing, to help the state I love so much,” he said.

Tags 2022 midterms Adam Schiff Alabama Andrew Cuomo Ann Wagner Arizona Ben Ray Lujan Bennie Thompson Billy Long Boehner California. Charlie Crist Deb Haaland Donald Trump Elise Stefanik Gavin Newsom Greg Stanton Jared Polis Jason Smith Joe Biden John Boehner Kristi Noem Lee Zeldin Madeleine Dean Marcia Fudge Mark Kelly Michelle Lujan Grisham Mike DeWine Mo Brooks Nancy Pelosi Ohio Pat Toomey Rob Portman Ron DeSantis Roy Blunt Ruben Gallego Sherrod Brown Susan Wild Tim Ryan Tim Walz Tom Reed Tom Wolf Vicky Hartzler Warren Davidson Xavier Becerra

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