Debbie Wasserman Schultz's Way Up is Via Washington, Not Florida
Around the State
Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s ambitions at home received a jolt this week when Democrat pollster PPP found the South Florida congresswoman trailing two Republicans in possible 2016 Senate matchups.
Wasserman Schultz can be excused for losing to Marco Rubio, 48-40. The Republican is well-known in Florida and is a constant presence in the national media. But Wasserman Schultz can’t be pleased with being down to tea party darling Allen West who beat her out 41-40 in the poll.
Even worse for her, Wasserman Schultz’s high national profile, including leading the DNC and being one of Barack Obama’s biggest cheerleaders, hasn’t helped her. Floridians have a sense of who she is -- and they don’t exactly like her with her unfavorable number at 5 percent higher than her favorable one: 32 percent to 27 percent.
That’s a problem, especially as Wasserman Schultz has sent out trial balloons, floating her name for a future Senate bid. With a thin bench, Democrats can’t afford a candidate who starts off unpopular, either to take on Rubio or run for an open Senate seat in 2016 or 2018. Bill Nelson is the only Democrat to hold statewide office in Florida. The Democrats simply can’t afford to lose Nelson’s seat at the state or national levels.
There are other Democrats waiting in the wings but it’s tough to see most of them doing any better than Wasserman Schultz against Rubio or in an open Senate race. The one exception could be Patrick Murphy who beat West in 2012 and is, despite representing a Republican area, the early favorite to keep his seat in November. Unlike Wasserman Schultz, Murphy could make a play for the middle, much like Nelson has in his many years in Florida politics.
But Wasserman Schultz has one great chance to move up by working her way up the congressional ladder. Since Democrats have almost no chance of picking up the House this year, Wasserman Schultz’s hopes to lead congressional Democrats appear slim in the short run. Standing in her way to replace Nancy Pelosi is Steny Hoyer of Maryland. But Wasserman Schultz has the advantage of time on her side. She is only in her late 40s while Pelosi and Hoyer are in their mid-70s. Even if Hoyer is Pelosi’s immediate replacement, Wasserman Schultz should have a chance to lead House Democrats down the road.
There is another way Wasserman Schultz can move up. She 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 and could end up in the administration if the Democrat wins.
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. This week’s poll only confirms this.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.