Washington – In a surprise move, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi chose New Mexico Democrat Ben Ray Lujan to head the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, overlooking a handful of Democrats, including Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, who had been considered for the job.
Lujan, 42, would replace Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., who said he did not want another term as chairman.
“Proud to announce next @DCCC Chair will be Ben Ray Lujan, whose vision, energy & leadership will bring House Dems to victory in 2016,” Pelosi tweeted Monday afternoon.
Pelosi also indicated Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, will keep her position as co-chairman of the House Democratic Steering Committee, which, among other things, decides committee assignments for Democratic members.
“Jim was honored to be considered for the post, and he will continue to be a tireless advocate for his district and the people he is privileged to represent,” said Himes communications director Greg Vadala.
Like Himes, Lujan will be starting his fourth term in Congress in January. But unlike Himes, Lujan was not thought to be on a short list of top candidates for the plum assignment that included Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas; Jared Polis, D-Col.; and Donna Edwards, D-Md. Edwards will now serve as co-chairman of the steering committee with DeLauro.
Pelosi told the Washington Post Himes is “a wonderful person” who did “better than anybody” in assuring that Democrats gave money to the DCCC for the election cycle.
She said she spoke with and selected Lujan in the last few days.
The failure of Congress and President Obama to move on immigration reform has frustrated the Latino community. There’s evidence the Latino vote, which usually benefits Democratic candidates, was suppressed in some areas in the midterm elections.
A congressional source said Pelosi wanted to choose someone from the Southwest, which is trending Democratic, and to reach out to the Latino community.
Lujan is vice chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, raising money for the group’s PAC and helping Latinos win seats in Congress.
Himes has worked for the DCCC for years, first as head of its “Frontline” program that protects vulnerable incumbents, then as the DCCC’s finance chairman, using his fundraising skills to raise millions of dollars to help colleagues in tough races this year, including Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District.
It’s unclear whether Himes will continue to work for the DCCC.
Democrats have lost 66 House seats since 2010, many of them in swing districts that were represented by moderates in the party. The House Democratic caucus is more liberal-leaning because of those losses.
Himes is considered one of the more moderate members of the caucus, while Lujan belongs to the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Pelosi made her choice before she was officially re-elected House minority leader. But she is expected to be re-elected easily when Democrats meet behind closed doors to cast their ballots on Tuesday.
Her lieutenants, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and assistant leader James Clyburn, D-S.C., also are expected to win another term in the Democratic leadership.