Debbie Wasserman Schultz Will Face Pivotal 2014
Around the State
As 2014 starts, Debbie Wasserman Schultz will face some interesting decisions in the new year which will impact her political future.
Wasserman Schultz is in the odd position of defending her congressional seat, running the Democratic National Committee (DNC), trying to advance her prospects of replacing Nancy Pelosi to lead House Democrats, and looking to advance her chances for higher office in Florida.
Wasserman Schultz’s role with the DNC could be more of a problem, especially as Barack Obama’s numbers continue to sink. Democrats should be able to keep the governorships of California and New York with little difficulty in 2014 and would love to defeat Republican incumbents in large states like Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. But Democrats have to play defense in states like Colorado, Connecticut and Illinois where they have vulnerable incumbents. Pundits are discounting Democrats’ chances of picking up the House while Republicans are making a major push to win back the Senate. Democrats are favored to keep the Senate currently but they will lose seats and the GOP does have a chance of flipping it, especially with Democrat incumbents running in traditionally red states.
At first glance, Wasserman Schultz’s hopes to lead congressional Democrats appear slim in the short run. Standing in her way to replace Pelosi is Steny Hoyer of Maryland. But Wasserman Schultz has the advantage of time on her side. She is only 47 while Pelosi is 73 and Hoyer is 74.
As chairwoman of the DNC and as chief Democratic whip, Wasserman Schultz has been able to aid newer members of the caucus with financial help and campaign resources. Wasserman Schultz also offers a bridge between the two rivals in the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries. Wasserman Schultz was a leading Hillary Clinton supporter in 2008 but she helped guide Obama’s bid for a second term. If Clinton runs again in 2016, Wasserman Schultz should keep a prominent spot at the table in the House. One thing to keep in mind. Democrats have chances to win some House seats in Florida as Alex Sink and Gwen Graham have solid chances of flipping seats that had been held by the GOP. If the likes of Sink and Graham win and Democrat incumbents like Patrick Murphy and Joe Garcia keep their seats, Wasserman Schultz should be able to collect a few more chips in the game. Even if Hoyer is Pelosi’s immediate replacement, Wasserman Schultz should have a chance to lead House Democrats down the road.
But if Wasserman Schultz’s prospects look good in the Beltway, they aren’t as promising in Florida. Having passed on running for governor in 2014, Wasserman Schultz should be in excellent shape if she chooses to run for the U.S. Senate in 2016, especially if Marco Rubio ends up on the Republican presidential ticket that year. Bill Nelson turns 76 in 2018 and Wasserman Schultz would be a favorite for her party’s nomination if her fellow Democrat retires. If Rick Scott wins a second term next year, Wasserman Schultz could run for the open governorship in 2018. Wasserman Schultz has a high profile and is a proven fundraiser. She would certainly be a heavy favorite to win her party’s nomination if she runs for the Senate or for governor.
But Wasserman Schultz would be very vulnerable in the general election. South Florida liberals have had little luck when they match up against Republicans. By nominating Miami liberal Robert King High in 1966, Democrats paved the way for Claude Kirk to become the first Republican governor since Reconstruction. In more recent elections, South Florida liberals Dan Gelber and Kendrick Meek went nowhere in statewide contests.
Despite Hoyer standing in her way, all signs indicate Wasserman Schultz would have a better chance of leading House Democrats -- and perhaps becoming speaker of the House -- than becoming governor or winning a seat in the Senate. Besides being far to the left of Florida voters, Wasserman Schultz has a history of gaffes. Her role at the DNC has called for her to play up the partisanship and remain an attack dog. It’s led to some outrageous statements which could come back to haunt her if she runs for statewide office. Of course, Wasserman Schultz is not a slam dunk to be a future House speaker. But she is well-positioned to move up into the top congressional ranks and her prospects there look much better than they do at the state level.
Wasserman Schultz will have chances in 2014 to raise her profile across Florida and across the nation as she leads the DNC and helps House Democrats. It’ll be a busy year for her, to be sure. With Republicans hard-pressed to challenge her in her district, Wasserman Schultz has the luxury of putting other priorities ahead of her re-election efforts in 2014.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.