Ami Bera, political star?
He says that’s not his aim, but the Sacramento congressman is trying to step onto a ladder that in the past has been an entry point for future U.S. senators, mayors, and congressional leaders.
Bera wants to head the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for the next two years. That is the arm of the party that helps manage and finance House races all over the country.
Bera is running against fellow Californian Tony Cardenas, D-San Fernando Valley. Newly elected Democratic House Leader Hakeem Jeffries will choose between them.
Bera said he is not seeking the office as a stepping stone. House Democrats just overhauled their leadership, but there’s speculation that California could have an open U.S. Senate seat in 2024 if Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., steps down.
Feinstein has not said whether or not she will seek another term in 2024, but has maintained a campaign account.
“No,” Bera said firmly, when The Bee asked if he saw the position as an entry point for bigger things. “I like the work I’m doing in Congress. I like the committees I have.”
Like it or not, the party’s House campaign chairman will be instantly thrust into a media spotlight, one that could work both ways.
“Right now, people are fixed on Sean Patrick Maloney, but he’s a unicorn,” said Ross Baker, a congressional expert at Rutgers University. The new chairman will succeed Maloney, a New York congressman who last month lost his re-election bid.
“It’s certainly a higher-profile job, but it also comes with more media coverage and more responsibilities,” added Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, which analyzes and tracks House races.
Democrats lost their House majority in last month’s election and will probably need a net gain of only four seats in 2024 to win back a House majority, “so there is the possibility,” Kondik said, “that the DCCC chair could come out of the next election looking great.”
The risk for the new chairman is that “a lot of things are weirdly out of the control of the chair, such as the economy and the popularity of the presidential candidates,” said Christian Grose, academic director of the University of Southern California’s Schwarzenegger Institute.
For about 20 years, there was little turnover in House Democratic leadership. New leaders will guide the party in the House next year, Grose said, and there could be more mobility and change in leadership ranks in the years ahead. Doing well as campaign chairman, he said, “could make a difference in distinguishing people for future leadership.”
Will Bera move up?
The log of past chairmen illustrate the potential. Rahm Emanuel led the effort in 2006, when Democrats won back a House majority for the first time in 12 years, and would go on to be Chicago’s mayor. Ben Ray Lujan was chairman as Democrats regained the majority in 2018, and is now a U.S. senator from New Mexico. Massachusetts’ Tip O’Neill was DCCC chairman in the early 1970s and would become House Speaker four years later.
Bera, 57, has been a member of Congress since 2013. He lost to Republican Rep. Dan Lungren in 2010, then beat him in 2012. Bera won close races in 2014 and 2016 but has won easily since then. He earned 56% of the vote in his re-election bid last month.
In discussing his qualifications for the campaign committee chairmanship, he noted his electoral history. “I’ve walked a mile in those shoes in those close races.”
In the previous election cycle, he was in charge of the “frontliners,” 39 House Democratic candidates regarded as the most vulnerable. Thirty-five won.
“We’ve got momentum, we’ve a strong team at the DCCC,” he said. “Let’s build off that and actually get back to the majority.”
But why this job?
“It’s the one job that’s focused on the tactical piece, the chess game,” said Bera, a physician who has been Sacramento County’s chief medical officer. “This one is the chess game of winning races, raising the resources and helping our incumbent members but also the candidates on the fringe.”
Getting the job could be tough. Cardenas, who would not comment for this story, is the former chairman of BOLD PAC, the campaign arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
In a letter to colleagues last month,he pointed to the PAC’s fundraising–an estimated $35 million in six years–and how it backed more than 150 non-Latino candidates.
The ultimate choice will be made differently than in past years, when fellow Democratic House members chose the winner. Jeffries will make the pick and he’s not saying what he may do or what his process involves.
The choice will ultimately receive blame or credit for the fate of Democratic House candidates in 2024, and if it’s credit, said Rutgers’ Blake, “it puts you in the line of professional succession.”