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Nobody Wants To Chair The DSCC

HuffPost 12/13/2022 Kevin Robillard
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's decision to drop her Democratic party affiliation and register as an independent has made the job of Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chair even more difficult. © Provided by HuffPost Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's decision to drop her Democratic party affiliation and register as an independent has made the job of Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chair even more difficult. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's decision to drop her Democratic party affiliation and register as an independent has made the job of Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chair even more difficult.

The only thing harder than protecting Democrats’ 51-seat majority during the 2024 election cycle might be finding a senator willing to take on the job.

Democrats are still up in the air as to who will lead the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, a job Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) made even more difficult with her decision to register as an independent on Friday. The party is already defending six Senate incumbents in seats former President Donald Trump won at least once, including three in states he won by double digits in both 2016 and 2020.

The search has become a struggle for reasons both obvious and obscure. The DSCC chair could have to navigate divisive and ideological intraparty fights in both Arizona and California. The growth in online fundraising has made the connections to big donors that come with the job less valuable than in the past. More than half of the party’s senators are up for reelection or are members of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (N.Y.) ever-expanding leadership team. 

But more than anything, the brutality of the map Democrats are facing would discourage any glory-seeking politician.

“It’s a tough map,” said Sen. Steve Daines (Mont.), who is chairing the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the GOP equivalent. “It’s fully understandable why nobody wants that job.”

Sen. Jon Tester, a past DSCC chair and one of the three incumbents in double-digit Trump states, floated a number of names.

“Nobody wants to do it because it’s a lot of work,” Tester told HuffPost. “I don’t know who could do it. Obviously Peters doesn’t want to do it again,” he said, referring to last cycle’s chair, Sen. Gary Peters (Mich.), who managed to add to Democrats’ majority despite a difficult political environment.

Tester was right on that point. 

“I’m very proud of our victories in this election,” Peters, who also won a close reelection bid in 2020, said in a statement to HuffPost. “I’m not going to chair the DSCC for the 2024 cycle.”

Tester then proceeded to name three other candidates: “There are other people. Kelly, Padilla, Ossoff, there are others.”

However, spokespeople for Sens. Mark Kelly (Ariz.) and Alex Padilla (Calif.) indicated their bosses do not have interest in the job. Padilla, a spokeswoman said, wants to spend time with his teenage children. Kelly, a spokesman noted, has been running for Senate for 46 straight months and wants a break. A spokesman for Sen. Jon Ossoff said the Georgian has “zero interest.”

A representative for Sen. Tina Smith (Minn.), another candidate floated by aides, said she isn’t interested in the gig either.

Since Trump’s election in 2016 reshaped American politics by increasing the GOP’s appeal to white working-class voters, 2024 has loomed as a daunting year for Democrats. Sens. Jon Tester of Montana, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — all of whom represent states dominated by the white working class — have been able to defy political gravity in part through the luck of facing reelection in the strong Democratic years of 2006, 2012 and 2018. 

That luck could easily run out in an election that will require them to convince thousands, if not millions, of voters to split their ballots in states the Democratic presidential nominee will almost certainly ignore in 2024. Over the past two presidential election cycles, only Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has convinced voters to reelect her even as they back a presidential candidate from the opposite party. 

Beyond those three states, Democrats will also need to defend the seat now held by Sinema — who, despite her protestations otherwise, is essentially functioning as a member of the Democratic caucus — in swing-state Arizona, plus incumbents in the swing states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan.

And their pickup opportunities are arguably non-existent: Their best hope is likely defeating Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in an ultra-expensive state where no Democrat will have won statewide in three decades. They are also likely to target Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), but he has shown a repeated willingness to spend hundreds of millions of dollars from his own personal fortune. 

The exposure is such that a bad Democratic year could lock the party out of power in the Senate for the foreseeable future. 

Adding to the difficulty is a pair of potential high-profile intraparty fights. Sinema has not yet officially announced whether she plans on running for reelection, but a run would immediately start an intense intraparty debate over whether national Democrats back her explicitly, stay neutral or back a potential Democratic opponent.

Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — another independent aligned with Democrats — indicated he was prepared to back a Sinema challenger.

“I support progressive candidates all over this country, people who have the guts to take on powerful special interests,” Sanders said. “I don’t know what’s going to be happening in Arizona. We will see who they nominate. But, certainly, that’s something I will take a hard look at.”

Democrats in California are also expecting Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who is 89 years old and clearly struggling with her job, to announce her retirement. That would set up a high-profile, ideologically charged clash between multiple factions of the Democratic Party. While the DSCC typically stays neutral in primaries, navigating the hurt feelings and multiple rounds of voting in the state’s top-two system could be an additional headache. 

And it’s a headache for a job that has become less attractive. 

When Tester and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) took the job for the 2016 and 2014 cycles, respectively, part of the reason was to build connections with national donor networks ahead of tough reelection bids of their own. But nearly every Democratic senator who faces a competitive race now raises almost as much from small online donations as from standard fundraisers. 

Look at two of the Democratic senators considered for the job: Kelly, for instance, raised $38 million from donations of less than $200 in 2021 and 2022, and raised $47 million in donations of more than $200. Ossoff raised $69 million in small donations for his 2020 race, and $75 million in donations of more than $200.

Finally, the number of potential nominees is small. A full 26 of the party’s 51 senators are either up for reelection, already have a leadership role, or both. Others are over the age of 70, or are the parents of small children. (One senator — Colorado’s John Hickenlooper — is both.)

“When you get rid of the senators who are either up for reelection, just won their election or are geriatric, there’s really not that many names left,” said one Democratic Senate aide, who requested anonymity to speak snarkily about their boss’s colleagues.

Igor Bobic contributed reporting. 

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