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Rep. Steve Israel favored to helm DCCC; nobody on deck for DSCC

New York Rep. Steve Israel appears to have the inside track to become the next chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; it's anybody's guess who will take over on the Senate side.

Less than a week after their party sustained major losses at the ballot box, Democrats are faced with replacing both of their campaign committee chairmen, while Republicans are likely to stick with both of theirs for another term.

So far, Israel and two others -- Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) -- have risen to the top in the race to replace the two-term head of the House Democrats' campaign committee, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.). And with the final decision likely to be in the hands of outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), it's advantage Israel.

Pelosi's decision to run for minority leader means she will likely pick the next DCCC chairman, and her pick is likely to be Israel, according to multiple sources close to the New York Democrat, Pelosi and the DCCC.

One source said they were "pretty sure" that Israel would assume that post. Another pointed out that Israel was one of a few members who scouted a potential minority leader run for Pelosi before she decided to pursue the job.

Sources say the other two candidates for the job would have stood better chances of chairing the committee if Pelosi had stepped aside for current Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) or if Pelosi somehow loses the minority leader race. Hoyer appears set, instead, to run against Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) for the minority whip position.

A source close to Crowley said the congressman is not interested in pursuing the chairmanship, thereby removing his name from the process.

Another source said that Wasserman Schultz hasn't ingratiated herself to Pelosi nearly as much as Israel and that Pelosi's inner circle doesn't have as much confidence in the people surrounding Wasserman Schultz. Israel, meanwhile, is close to plenty of former DCCC heavyweights.

"He's smart, he's tactical, and he is cold-blooded," the source said.

Israel built up some goodwill at the White House last year by declining to challenge appointed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) in a primary. He stood down at the personal request of President Obama and earned plaudits from Democrats leaders for doing so.

The sources noted that much remains unsettled and that Hoyer's fate stood out as a wildcard. But it's not exactly clear under what circumstances Pelosi would go with someone besides Israel.

Whoever takes over at the DCCC will have plenty of opportunities next cycle; House Republicans will bring their biggest majority in 60 years into the 112th Congress, which means lots of targets.

The situation isn't nearly is friendly in the Senate, where Democrats still hold the majority but have to defend more than twice as many seats in 2012.

There don't appear to be any real good options to replace Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. In fact, a whole slate of potential chairmen have already said no, while not one senator has publicly expressed interest.

Joining the list of senators saying no this weekend was Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the former two-term chairman of the DSCC who guided his party to a 13-seat gain and a (temporarily) filibuster-proof majority in 2009. Schumer's name had been floated in the week since the 2010 election, but he told the New York Observer on Sunday that he's not doing it.

"I have been asked by Leader Reid and many of my colleagues, and I've said I think I can better serve our country, our state, and our party by focusing on issues and getting us to refocus on the middle class," Schumer said.

Joining Schumer in saying no so far are Democratic Sens. Al Franken (Minn.), Mark Warner (Va.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Tom Udall (N.M.), Mark Udall (Colo.) and Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.).

Those close to Democratic leadership are being tight-lipped about who will replace Menendez, declining even to float names. But when it comes to picking a new chairman, there are a few rules that are generally followed.

One is that senators who are up for reelection during the same cycle generally won't do it. That knocks out 21 of a possible 51 candidates right there (not including two independents who caucus with Democrats).

Then there is the probability that it won't be anyone who has a top leadership position or committee chairmanship. That restricts the pool of candidates by another dozen or so.

Subtracting those two groups, Schumer and the seven candidates who have said no publicly leaves a rather short list of fewer than 10 names. The apparent possibilities include Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Barbara Mikulski (Md.), Ron Wyden (Ore.), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Jack Reed (R.I.) and freshman Chris Coons (Del.).

Murray, notably, was drafted to be chairwoman of the committee in 2002, which was not a good cycle for Democrats. Pryor is among the most conservative Democrats in the Senate and doesn't come from an ideal state for fundraising purposes. And Lautenberg is soon to turn 87 years old.

Among the rest, the most logical choices would appear to be Bennet and Reed.

There, of course, remains the possibility that someone who has already said no will get talked into it. It's certainly happened before.

Warner has long been seen as the most obvious choice, with a pro-business background that would be good for fundraising. And there appears to be a pretty serious effort underway to get him to change his mind.

But as of the weekend, he stood firm as a no.

"No means no," chief of staff Luke Albee told CQ-Roll Call. "Sen. Warner is flattered, but no means no."

Meanwhile, fresh off an election cycle that saw historic gains in the House and a leap forward in the Senate, Republicans appear happy to retain their two campaign committee chairmen, with Rep. Pete Sessions and Sen. John Cornyn making it known that they would like to stay on.

By Aaron Blake  | November 8, 2010; 4:37 PM ET
Categories:  House, Senate  
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