Let us suppose that you're not satisfied with the progress that was made on progressive priorities over the last two years, and you want another bite at the governance apple - preferably sooner, rather than later. Suppose, in fact, you would like to retake the House in 2012: hold the Senate, hold the White House, take the House.
How do we do that?
Well, the first thing to understand is that you can't retake the House without winning a bunch of Republican-leaning districts. There are 435 voting representatives in the House, and 218 make a majority. Unfortunately, there are only 192 Democratic-leaning districts, plus 9 that are even versus 234 that are Republican-leaning.
(You'll note that the graph isn't symmetrical. That's because of gerrymandering: the Republicans have done a good job of drawing district lines so that there are a greater number of Republican districts than Democratic ones, which they do by making Democratic districts VERY Democratic.)
At this point it's clear that Nancy Pelosi will be the Minority Leader. (Yay!) Not only does she handily have the votes of a majority of the Democratic caucus, she also doesn't have a credible challenger. Steny Hoyer has been quite clear that he would support her and offer no challenge if she chose to run, and she has chosen to run. He, in turn, has kept his word.
However, there is a fight going on between Steny Hoyer, currently the House Majority Leader, and Jim Clyburn, currently the House Majority Whip, on who should take the House Minority Whip position.Normally, you'd expect everyone on the Democratic side to just move down a slot:
- Speaker Pelosi moves down one slot and becomes Minority Leader Pelosi
- Majority Leader Hoyer moves down one slot and becomes Minority Whip Hoyer
- Majority Whip Clyburn moves down one slot and becomes Caucus Chair Clyburn
- ...and so forth.
But it should be noted that the leadership in the next Congress will have an impact on the likelihood that we retake the House. So how would we want Democratic House leadership structured to maximize our chances of retaking the House in 2012?
To win in Republican-leaning districts, candidates are generally going to need party support, validation in the press as credible candidates, and money. It would be good if our Democratic leadership team was constructed to be able to deliver that. In particular, we're going to want at least one senior member who will raise money like crazy and spread it around generously to every remotely-viable Democratic candidate who needs it via all available methods: from a campaign account, from a leadership PAC, by bundling and directing contributions from other PACs and donors, and by giving generously to the party committees. In addition, we'd want such a person to be willing to criss-cross the country to do events with candidates in their districts to raise money and lend credibility to their efforts, both for the sake of exciting local support from donors and activists, and in order to generate positive press that takes the candidates seriously.
That's a grueling job: raising money and travelling incessantly are not on most member's favorite-activities list. But that's what we need. And because we need to win a bunch of marginal and Republican-leaning districts, we need it from someone who can go to such districts and be seen as credible, as a heavyweight, whose presence will help pretty much every candidate they touch regardless of that candidate's specific ideology.
Conveniently, we have just such a person. His name is Steny Hoyer.
When I ran in 2006 and 2008, Steny Hoyer was the first member of Democratic leadership to come help me. He did fundraisers, he talked to press, he sent money from his leadership PAC and his campaign account, he bundled checks from donors - whatever I needed, he tried to help. When he came to help, big donors took me more seriously as a candidate and started writing checks. When he came to help, local press took me more seriously as a candidate and started covering the race. When he came to help, organized labor decided I was viable and started to engage.
In the last several cycles, he's helped every remotely viable Democratic candidate, from the most progressive to the most conservative. He raised and donated millions, helping candidates from Alan Grayson and Tarryl Clark to Allen Boyd and Bobby Bright. He had a big role in building the last majority, and he'll be important to building the next one.
I'm thrilled that Nancy Pelosi will continue to lead House Democrats in the next Congress. But as someone who is also worried about what happens in the Congress after that, I'm strongly in favor of Steny Hoyer being her second -- with Jim Clyburn, in turn, becoming the Caucus Chair.