Betting the House on Matsui - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Betting the House on Matsui

Moderate House Democrats continue to voice concerns and doubts about leader Nancy Pelosi‘s selection of Rep. Robert Matsui to run the party’s Congressional Campaign Committee. The worry is that Matsui is not up to leading the Herculean fundraising effort facing Democrats in 2004.

“With McCain-Feingold setting in, we really could have used someone who knows the ropes a bit better than Bob appears to,” says a former DCCC staffer let go after the last election. “From the outside looking in, it’s not clear we’re doing anything different from last time, and that was a disaster.”

New York Rep. Nita Lowey chaired the DCCC last time around. Her leadership oversaw one of the more embarrassing election cycles for House Democrats in recent memory, especially because so many liberal Democrats thought they were perfectly positioned to cut further into the Republicans’ slim majority. Instead, the GOP widened its margin of majority.

Matsui wasn’t the number one choice of any House Democrats for the job, other than perhaps his good pal Pelosi. Her pick drew complaints from moderate Dems and the Congressional Black Caucus, both of which had put their own candidates forward. Instead, Pelosi went with the liberal Californian.

According to current and former DCCC staffers, Matsui so far has only brought in a group of trusted liberals whose experience has been in California campaigns. “There’s been no attempt to bring in other voices,” says a current DCCC staffer. “It was suggested that he bring in former chairman [Rep. Martin] Frost for a chat, for help. Nothing. This is less about Matsui and more about Pelosi. We get the idea that she’s calling the shots.”

Which, as caucus leader, she should be. But at a time when Democrats are becoming increasingly alarmed by McCain-Feingold’s donation caps and soft money ban, other party regulars are worried less about who is raising the money than about how the money is going to be raised at all.

“I know Terry [McAuliffe] has high hopes, but he had high hopes in 2002 too,” says a Texas delegate to last weekend’s DNC winter meetings. “The party is really counting on everyone doing their best in 2004. There isn’t much margin for error.”

Thus the many concerns about Matsui and Pelosi. Current DCCC staffers say they are troubled that even in clearly conservative states like North Carolina, Pelosi and Matsui are considering candidates far to the left of the voting population. “They were looking at possibilities who might run in an open seat down there in a semi-rural district, and a moderate wasn’t even on the list,” says a DCCC staffer. “It was all liberals from Charlotte.” (North Carolina election law doesn’t require that a candidate live in the district he is competing to represent.)

As well, Matsui didn’t wow his colleagues at last month’s congressional retreat. In discussing plans for 2004, much of the talk came from Pelosi and whip Steny Hoyer.

“Pelosi is going to be judged on the Matsui pick, to be sure,” says a moderate Democratic representative. “She thinks the liberal wing of the party is going to lead us to victory. And apparently she’s going to try to prove that point without any of our help.”

The announcement late last week that Georgia Republican Party chairman Ralph Reed was stepping down from that job re-ignited rumors that he will enter the fray for the state’s GOP Senate nomination in the 2004 campaign. But according to White House sources, and people who have talked to Reed, the Senate seat still isn’t a possibility.

“As long as we don’t have a candidate running for that slot with national name recognition, Reed’s name is going to be in play, but there really aren’t any plans for him to run right now,” says a White House staffer.

Reed, rather, is expected to help implement a broad Southern-state campaign strategy for the Bush 2004 re-election team, led by Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman.

“We’re expecting he’ll be a point man in the South for us, doing what he did in Georgia across the region,” says an RNC campaign staffer. “It’s going to be really important if the Dems have a moderate Southerner on the ticket.”

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