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Player of the Week: Chris Van Hollen

Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Gomez once famously said, "I'd rather be lucky than good." So which one is Chris Van Hollen -- lucky, good or both?

Chris Van Hollen
Chris Van Hollen can't get no respect ... from the media. While everything goes right for House Democrats, the press focuses on everyone BUT the DCCC chairman. Above, Van Hollen is flanked by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Majority Whip James Clyburn at a May 14 press conference in Washington. (AP photo)

In the wake of Democrats' third special-election victory in a GOP-held seat in two months, much attention has been focused on the failings, and job security, of National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.). A lot less ink has been spilled chronicling his sleeping-much-better-at-night counterpart, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Van Hollen.

Being overshadowed is nothing new for Van Hollen, who has represented the Maryland suburbs of D.C. since 2003 and has run the DCCC since last January. His elevation to that job coincided with the Democratic takeover of the House and ascension of Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to become the first-ever female Speaker. And Van Hollen had the "luck" to follow Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) as DCCC chief. Emanuel got scads of credit for helping win the majority and remains in the party leadership and assiduously courts the media.

Now, even at what should be a peak moment of success (so far), Van Hollen is being knocked off the front page by Cole and the GOP's party-wide woes.

But so what? Van Hollen sits in an enviable position, with a pile of campaign cash beneath him and the prospect of more election victories ahead. So again, how did he get here? Is he lucky or good?

The Lucky Part: Being in the majority has its privileges, particularly in fundraising. Running the House, Democrats have access to all kinds of donors -- especially from K Street and the business community -- that they didn't have during the 12-year GOP interlude. There are plenty of folks who will return Van Hollen's calls now who might not have given the DCCC a cent back when the party was in the minority. Van Hollen is also benefiting from the fact that President Bush's approval rating is in the toilet, the Iraq war remains unpopular and the economy is faltering. On a national level, Democrats have a tremendous built-in advantage right now.

The Good Part: Holding the majority makes fundraising easier, but it's still a lot of work, and Van Hollen has been doing it. As of March 31, the DCCC had $44.3 million in the bank. At the same point in 2006, the committee had $23 million. Van Hollen has generally gotten praise for his candidate recruiting efforts this cycle, knowing which Democratic candidates have the best chances and making sure they get support. He has also -- and this is particularly important -- encouraged candidates to run campaigns tailored to their districts, rather than some one-size-fits-all national message. The last two Democratic special election winners, Travis Childers in Mississippi and Don Cazayoux in Louisiana, are prime examples of that. In those contests and in Illinois, Van Hollen deftly deployed advertising dollars and ground staff, forcing Cole and to spend cash he didn't have on races he ended up losing.

Now Democrats appear poised to pick up more seats in the general election. Will Van Hollen get the credit? Or will those victories be chalked up to the national environment, Barack Obama, Pelosi, Emanuel, the Leap Year or any number of other factors not related to the guy who actually runs House Democratic campaigns? Either way, Van Hollen has shown that it's best to be lucky AND good.

By Ben Pershing  |  May 16, 2008; 4:08 PM ET
Categories:  2008 Campaign , Dem. Leaders , Player of the Week  
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And this poll says it all. You won't believe these results!

Posted by: Kresm | May 16, 2008 5:43 PM | Report abuse

Van Hollen is amazingly lucky and has no skill whatsoever. He was handed the nomination for Congress of a gerrymandered district to ensure a democratic win. His entire campaign to beat Connie Morella was "I'm a for me." And the sad part (which represents MD politics to a T) is he won with that.


Posted by: byte1 | May 16, 2008 5:55 PM | Report abuse

Wow. The election is really heating up now. But, you won't believe these poll results!

Posted by: forg | May 17, 2008 4:19 PM | Report abuse

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