Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney was elected Thursday to lead the House Democrats’ campaign arm, charged with steering the caucus through an exceedingly perilous midterm with their control of the chamber on the line.
Maloney, who represents a New York battleground district, defeated Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.) in a hard-fought — and closely watched — contest to lead the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He will take on the task of shielding a slim majority in the first two years of a new Democratic president and under a new set of district lines drawn in large part by Republicans.
The New York Democrat will succeed Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), who oversaw one of the caucus’s most successful fundraising cycles but fell victim to her own expectation-setting and failed to predict the turnout wave from President Donald Trump that crushed Democrats’ hopes of an ambitious electoral map that included Texas and even Alaska.
As incoming DCCC chief, Maloney will have one of the trickiest jobs in Washington after the Democrats’ down-ballot trouncing at the polls last month that left Republicans between five and seven seats away from the majority. He will have to convince dozens of new candidates to run in a potentially unfavorable environment and in districts that have yet to be drawn.
Maloney will be immediately inserted into the center of an ideological debate that has gripped House Democrats since Nov 3., with the caucus’s warring factions pointing fingers at each other over exactly why they’re staring down a shrunken majority come January.
Many moderate Democrats — who largely supported Maloney for his ability to win in a Trump-won district — are demanding a new party message that veers starkly away from the GOP’s attacks on socialism and progressive slogans like “defund the police.”
Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, are dissecting the internal gears at DCCC, arguing that the operation needs to rely on more diverse staff and consultants, devote more resources to get-out-the-vote efforts and completely rethink its digital operations.
Many progressives, particularly lawmakers of color, had flocked behind Cardenas, who proved to be a prolific fundraiser and organizer as he built the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s campaign arm, BOLD Pac, from the ground up. And he staked his campaign on a vow to Democrats’ increasingly apparent struggles with Latino. The party suffered surprising losses in heavily Latino seats in Florida, Texas and California.
Cardenas was vocal about reforming some of DCCC’s practices, including ending a contentious policy that banned the organization from hiring any consultant that has helped a primary challenger of a sitting Democrat — a practice that enraged progressives.
Maloney has acknowledged concerns with messaging and said he would reconsider the DCCC blacklist, though he has been mostly restrained — both publicly and privately — in his assessment of DCCC’s miscalculations.
“The smart thing for the DCCC chair to do is to say, I don’t know what happened until I’ve really had a chance to dig into the numbers,” Maloney said in a recent interview.
As chair, Maloney will have an additional task of shepherding members through the decennial redistricting process, which is fraught with politics and internal bickering, particularly in states that are on track to lose a seat. Adding to the uncertainty is the fact that the Census Bureau will almost certainly not be able to release its reapportionment data in December, delaying states ability to draw new maps.
It’s entirely possible that redistricting alone creates enough red-friendly seats to place Republicans in the majority in 2022. The GOP has total control of the process in many key states, including Texas, Florida and North Carolina, which could have a combined total of 82 seats.
Heather Caygle contributed to this report.