Updated Nov 8, 2022, 6:51am EST
politicsNorth America

Democrats are considering 'blowing up' their leadership model

Kadia is a Political Reporter for Semafor, joining us from Buzzfeed News. Sign up for the daily Principals newsletter to get our insider’s guide to American power.


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The News

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney listens as Speaker Nancy Pelosi offers remarks at the US Capitol
REUTERS/Rod Lamkey

House Democrats are fearing big losses today and some in the caucus are already contemplating major changes to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in response.

In particular, some were upset with having a frontline member in charge of the DCCC in New York Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, whose race is currently rated a toss-up by Cook Political Report. And one former chair thinks Democrats should consider dropping member-run campaign committees entirely.

“I think the whole model can be blown up,” Rep. Cheri Bustos, who chaired the DCCC in 2020, told Semafor. “We could take a look at ‘Does it need to be a member of Congress?’ I'm not sure that just because we've done it this way for many, many cycles– had a member of Congress run the place–I don't know if that's the right model.”

Maloney faces a tough battle in NY-17 against New York State Assemblyman Mike Lawler and the DCCC has helped finance his race, to the chagrin of some members in vulnerable districts seeking funding as well. Some also thought Maloney faced a conflict of interest by running in a different district after the state adopted new maps, which put him in competition with fellow members.


“When the head of the DCCC is worried about their own race, they’re unable to think about protecting as many members in purple districts as possible,” a top aide to a progressive member said. “Democrats need a leader that can pay attention to the entire chess board.”

Maloney has argued that his experience facing competition gives him a better understanding of how to win. “Chairman Maloney knows the reality that mainstream swing district Democrats live every single day, because he is on the frontlines with them,” a spokesman for the DCCC told Semafor in a statement.

Reps. Ami Bera and Tony Cárdenas are eying the position for the 2024 cycle, we're told. Both California members represent safe seats.

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Kadia's view

In more than two dozen interviews, I didn’t get the sense any Democrats wanted Maloney to lose. Several members and aides talked about the sensitivity of criticizing Maloney ahead of an election but lamented that Republicans were able to target a member of their leadership, which felt like a point of embarrassment.

But as someone who finds it difficult to multitask beyond driving and talking on the phone, I can’t imagine how a member of Congress has the bandwidth to run a competitive race that’s targeted by the other side, and effectively lead a club of 435 members.  But I’m not a member of Congress and no one voted for me.

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Room for Disagreement

Maloney has some sympathy from former National Republican Campaign Committee chairs, who say there’s value in having a chair with skin in the game.

“You lose an important perspective that could be very helpful,” Tom Davis, who chaired the NRCC in the 2000 and 2002 cycles, told Semafor. “Safe seats only see the world one way.”

“I think it's best to have the person who will be best equipped to lead the campaign committee both in the political decisions and the fundraising that's necessary,” Tom Reynolds, NRCC chair in the 2004 and 2006 elections, told Semafor. “And sometimes they will have less than a rock solid seat.”


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