House Democratic leaders have been working hard on behalf of Democratic challengers, showering them with money and personal attention to expand their majority and to curry favor with future colleagues.
In Colorado, Democrats are working hard to help Democrat Betsy Markey defeat U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo., perhaps best known outside the state as a prominent proponent of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Musgrave has faced tight elections in 2004 and 2006 and once again is in a tight race.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois have contributed thousands of dollars from their own campaign coffers and leadership PACs, held countless fund-raisers and traveled across the country for Democratic candidates.
Many Democrats had feared that Markey would not have the money to stay on television in the final 10 days of the race, but party leaders have helped her raise money late in the campaign, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has also spent $784,000 on Markey’s behalf.
Pelosi held a fund-raiser for Markey in Denver earlier this month and sent an e-mail to DCCC supporters asking for help. She already had given Markey $7,500.
Hoyer has contributed $9,000 to Markey and has campaigned for her; Clyburn has given her $10,000 and has stumped for her as well; and Emanuel has given $14,000 to Markey’s bid and has also campaigned for her.
Their efforts appear to have paid off. Markey raised more than $383,000 during the first two weeks of October, according to Political Money Line, a Web site that tracks contributions to candidates for office.
Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee has pulled its money out of the race, leaving Musgrave alone to defend herself.
Stuart Rothenberg, the author of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Report, said this week that “the incumbent remains the underdog,” according to private polling.
Despite the communal effort by party leadership to increase the size of the Democratic majority, however, self-interest is at stake, too.
Pelosi, Hoyer, Clyburn and Emanuel are all campaigning hard to curry favor with future colleagues who will have a say in whether they remain Democratic leaders.
In the weeks after the election, Democrats will meet in Washington, D.C., and hold internal party elections (Republicans will hold their own elections, too). When Congress meets in early January, House members will vote to determine who will be speaker of the House. The vote normally is split along party lines, so Pelosi will be reelected easily if all Democrats support her.
But leadership races are often contentious, revealing a party’s inner turmoil as well as a lawmaker’s political skills. So the allegiance of incoming freshmen can be crucial.
Perhaps no recent congressional leader was better at the care and feeding of future members of Congress than former Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who campaigned tirelessly in 1994 for Republican candidates who eventually won.
He not only raised and contributed money to them, but sent them care packages with office supplies, toiletries and snacks. The loyalty he won from GOP candidates helped propel DeLay past then-Speaker Newt Gingrich’s favored candidate to become the majority whip.
The current Democratic leadership has worked well together during the past two years and the leadership team will remain in place during the 111th Congress. But leaders face a big test in 2010, when Emanuel, the fourth-ranking member of leadership, reaches his two-term limit as caucus chair.
It’s either up or out for Emanuel at that point — a man called both ambitious and impatient.
Emanuel, a former senior aide to President Clinton before winning a seat in Congress in 2002, led the Democrats to victory in the 2006 midterm elections as chairman of the DCCC.
What Emanuel chooses to do after the 2010 midterm elections, as well as how he manages his relationship with a President Obama, could have far-reaching consequences for the party’s leadership. He normally chooses the most aggressive and ambitious course of action and has let reporters know that he wants to be the first Jewish speaker of the House.
He’s also flirted with the idea of serving as chief of staff for Barack Obama should he win election on Tuesday.
“Both Pelosi and Hoyer are same age, both love their jobs, and both could be there for another six years,” a Democratic lobbyist with close ties to House leaders said. “No question that if [Emanuel] stays, he will be speaker. The question is whether he can wait.”
“He’s on a path to someday be speaker,” another Democratic lobbyist said. “It’s a question of what are stepping stones along the way and how long will it take?”
With days to go before the 2008 election, speculation about the 2010 midterms and future party leadership might appear pointless given how much can change.
But leadership races determine who sets the party’s message and agenda in Washington, as well as who advises the speaker and majority leader. So until the moment comes when Emanuel has to give up his post as Democratic Caucus chairman, he and the other House leaders are busy collecting chits and building new relationships with possible newcomers like Markey.