Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Pacoima) is seeking to run House Democrats’ campaign arm in the 2024 election cycle, likely pitting two California Democrats against each other for the post.
Cárdenas announced his intentions in a letter to House Democrats on Friday morning, even as control of the House remained too close to call.
“No matter the outcome of this election, we defied expectations,” Cárdenas wrote. “We beat conventional wisdom, outperformed in districts everywhere, and showed that our power is with the people.”
He went on to thank outgoing Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney, crediting the New York Democrat and his team for helping avert a red wave even as Maloney lost his own seat to Congress in the process.
Despite ousting an active DCCC chief for the first time in 40 years, Republican congressional candidates fell short of the expectations GOP leaders set this cycle. Though they’re still favored to win control of the House, a planned election night victory speech from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) was delayed for several hours after unexpectedly strong performances from Democratic candidates across the country.
“In the coming weeks, we will make time to figure out how we can do better,” Cárdenas said. “But the work to win back the seats we lost and expand our Democratic Caucus begins today.”
Rep. Ami Bera (D-Elk Grove) is also interested in running to become chair of the campaign group, though he has not yet declared his intentions.
“As there are many undecided races and recounts likely to take place, Rep. Bera is doing everything he can to help ensure Democrats retain their current majority in the House,” Bera spokesman Travis Horne said in a statement to The Times. “As DCCC Frontline Chair, Rep. Bera is speaking with Members about what went right and improvements that can be made as we head into the next cycle.”
In his letter, Cárdenas highlighted his campaign travel this cycle and the $800,000 he’s raised or donated to other Democrats. He said he wants “to grow our caucus by charting a new course rooted in your strategic input, collective political experiences, and battle-tested campaign expertise,” arguing that Democratic candidates themselves are the experts on how to win their districts.
He also leaned on his experience as a former chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ campaign arm, BOLD PAC. Cárdenas said that as the head of BOLD PAC, it “raised record-breaking funds every cycle,” a total exceeding $35 million in six years, increased membership within the Hispanic Caucus and supported more than 150 non-Latino members and candidates for the first time.
In a caucus long dominated by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), the DCCC chair’s post is often seen as a launchpad to higher positions — either within the caucus or outside of it. Past chairs include Rahm Emanuel, who later became White House chief of staff, Chicago mayor and U.S. ambassador to Japan, and now-Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.).
More recently, however, the chairs have been locked in competitive races themselves. Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) won reelection by 4 percentage points when she chaired the DCCC in 2020. Republicans won 14 seats that cycle despite President Biden winning the White House and Democrats winning control of a 50-50 Senate.
Bustos didn’t seek reelection this year. But Maloney, who defeated Cárdenas to win the DCCC post two years ago, did. He conceded his race to Republican Mike Lawler earlier this week. After New York’s redistricting process, Maloney drew criticism from fellow Democrats for announcing a run in a district more aligned with Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), who ran in a different district to avoid challenging Maloney but lost in a crowded primary.
Allies of Cárdenas say his profile as a hardworking lawmaker who understands the diversity of Hispanics and other voters of colors would be an asset in a presidential cycle where Donald Trump, who made inroads with Black and Hispanic voters, is expected to launch a third White House campaign as soon as next week.
Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) said Cárdenas would prioritize diversity and inclusion at every level, which would be reflected in staffing, recruitment and even donors. She also praised him for his willingness to help other groups like the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and the Democratic Women’s Caucus fill their coffers.
“He would be a good chair,” Kelly said. “He has experience leading political organizations, and we need someone with his type of experience and the ability to build relationships at the top of the DCCC.”
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) added that it’s important to have someone leading the DCCC who would engage with Hispanic voters early, often and in a nuanced way as Republicans continue to try to make gains with that demographic. He also said Cárdenas benefits from being in a safe Democratic seat, particularly after Republicans have targeted DCCC chairs in recent cycles.
“Last time he ran, he got very, very, very, very close,” Cuellar said. “And I think he’s going to win this time.”
House Democrats are expected to hold their internal leadership elections on Nov. 30, though it’s unclear whether any of the top positions will be available. Neither Pelosi nor her top lieutenants have announced their intentions since Tuesday’s election, though Pelosi has previously said this would be her last term as Democratic leader. She recently told CNN the assault on her husband last month would factor into her decision-making.