Denny Heck Declares Bid for DCCC Chair

After two cycles chairing recruitment for the committee, the Washington state Democrat is hoping to lead efforts to protect the newly won majority.

Rep. Denny Heck
Stephen Brashear/AP Images for U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation
Nov. 7, 2018, 12:02 p.m.

As Democrats celebrated a majority won mere hours ago, they were also already planning how to protect it in 2020.

After four years chairing House Democratic recruitment efforts, Rep. Denny Heck of Washington announced a bid to lead the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee so he can help secure a second term for the newly elected members he helped draft.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Democratic caucus members, Heck touted his district-by-district knowledge of the House and pitched himself as the best prepared to preserve a majority made up of dozens of neophyte members in competitive seats.

"2020 is not 2018 and we cannot fight the last war. To begin with, we need to rotate the dial on offense to defense," he wrote. "Next cycle, with our great and large crop of new members, we need to place more emphasis on their needs. It's just math. It is simply more cost-effective to protect an incumbent than to defeat one."

Democrats had netted 27 seats as of Wednesday morning, and more than 20 other races remained uncalled. Several gains from traditionally red suburbs, such as those held by Republican Reps. Pete Sessions and John Culberson in Texas, have little history of electing Democrats and could be hard to hold in two years.

Rep. Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico, who chaired the committee the past two cycles, is not unexpected to seek the position again. But Heck likely won't have the race to replace Lujan to himself.

Rep. Suzan DelBene, a fellow member of the Washington delegation, has also expressed interest to colleagues and party leadership. She was a DCCC finance cochair this cycle.

Besides this intra-state competition, senior Democratic aides cautioned that members angling for other leadership positions could be coaxed into chairing the campaign arm if they fall short of their preferred role. The assistant Democratic leader position and the caucus chair and vice chair positions have drawn plenty of interest.

But Heck has been recruiting candidates for six years, and he cochairs the DCCC’s Red to Blue program for top challengers. Nearly 30 of those candidates won Tuesday.

His personal relationship with those new members could help. He has mentored or recruited some of the newly elected, including Susie Lee in Nevada, Abby Finkenauer in Iowa, and Haley Stevens in Michigan, and members completing their freshman terms, such as Reps. Stephanie Murphy and Charlie Crist of Florida.

“The old saying is you’re not elected until you’re reelected,” said Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont, a Heck supporter. “He knows these candidates, and they trust him because he’s been so helpful and engaged with them.”

Though defense will be the top priority, Heck promised to continue to recruit. "I couldn't stop doing that if I wanted to," he wrote in the letter.

Indeed, as election results rolled in, the congressman made calls to some top-tier candidates who fell short, such as Aftab Pureval in Ohio and Kathy Manning in North Carolina, encouraging them to run again.

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