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Pelosi’s ally, the underdog and the next-in-line: Dems battle to lead spending panel

Wasserman Schultz, in some ways, was an unexpected addition to the race; her 11 years on the committee pales in comparison to the lengthy records of DeLauro and Kaptur. But she is attempting to sway her colleagues with another line on her résumé: her powerhouse fundraising abilities.

Wasserman Schultz is “the underdog,” said one Democrat on the Appropriations panel. “The answer isn’t ‘No it’s not possible.’ There’s a narrow lane.”

The Florida Democrat has been a strong fundraiser for her colleagues, particularly for vulnerable members, even after her time atop the DNC ended in scandal in 2016, with leaked emails showing an attempt to undermine the presidential candidacy of Sen. Bernie Sanders in favor of Hillary Clinton.

Since then, Wasserman Schultz has retreated from high-profile roles in the Democratic Caucus even as she has continued to build a massive fundraising war chest.

So far this cycle, Wasserman Schultz raised $1.01 million for House Democrats, including $409,000 for the most vulnerable members, according to numbers provided by her campaign. A complete set of fundraising numbers won’t be available until the end of the next quarter.

“Above all, we must protect our majority. If there’s no gavel to pick up next year, we return to the back benches. And I won’t let that happen,” Wasserman Schultz said.

DeLauro has raised $385,000 so far this cycle, including $210,500 for the party’s more endangered members, according to her campaign — less than half of Wasserman Schultz’s total.

“I am proud of those strong numbers because they enable Democrats to enact the legislation necessary to help working people and the middle class,” DeLauro said.

Kaptur has raised $351,000 for House Democrats so far this cycle, including $51,000 for “frontline” members, according to her office.

Kaptur has regularly paid her DCCC dues. Still, her fundraising is generally below her two competitors in terms of additional giving to DCCC and to the party’s most vulnerable members, according to a POLITICO review of campaign reports from the 2014 cycle through January 2020.

Privately, the Ohio Democrat is often critical of the outsize role that fundraising has taken on Capitol Hill, according to people close to her. When Kaptur initially sought the gavel against Lowey in 2012, fundraising was often one of the first subjects their colleagues asked about.

The fundraising reports show another disparity in the three candidates’ numbers: Wasserman Schultz has raised an average of $1.049 million for endangered Democrats over the past three cycles, compared to $95,000 for DeLauro and $100,100 for Kaptur.

DeLauro is widely expected to win the first stage of the contest — the Steering Committee vote — but some Democrats speculate that she could face competition from Wasserman Schultz in the caucuswide vote, usually held the next day.

The caucus vote is usually little more than a rubber stamp, however, as rank-and-file lawmakers rarely reject the Steering Committee’s nominee.

But it’s not out of the question. It’s the same path that now-House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone took in 2014, when he beat out Pelosi’s favored candidate and close friend, Rep. Anna Eshoo of California, for the panel’s ranking member slot during a caucus-wide vote.

Since that race — which was unusual for the public nastiness on display from both sides — both Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who went all-in for Pallone, have tended to stay out of chairmanship contests.

Pelosi didn’t endorse in the race between Reps. Jerry Nadler of New York and Zoe Lofgren of California to lead the House Judiciary Committee, despite Lofgren being a close friend of the speaker. And neither Pelosi nor Hoyer is expected to get involved in the Appropriations contest, according to allies close to both leaders. Lowey is also not expected to weigh in.

Rank-and-file Democrats, particularly those who sit on the Steering panel, say they’ve already been inundated with candidate pitches, which will only ramp up in the coming months.

“The candidates are very proactive. But it’s a long process and it’s relatively far away,” said Rep. Grace Meng of New York, another Appropriations member. “They’ve got to do what they have to do. But I think it’s a bit early for all of us to make the decision.”

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