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House Dems pick openly gay lawmaker to lead campaign arm

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, who won his fifth term last month, will become the first LGBTQ person to chair the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Image: Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., during an impeachment hearing at the Capitol
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., on Nov. 21, 2019, in Washington.Andrew Harrer / AP file

Democrats picked Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney on Thursday to lead their campaign organization into the 2022 elections. Maloney, who in 2013 became the first openly gay member of Congress from New York, will now become the first LGBTQ person to chair the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which helps to recruit House candidates, raise money and provide campaign guidance.

“I’m honored and humbled to earn the trust of my colleagues to lead the @DCCC at this pivotal moment in history,” Maloney, who won his fifth term last month, wrote on Twitter. “Now, it’s time for House Democrats to unite and go forward together. We need a unified front to win in 2022. We will protect this majority ... for the people.”

Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBTQ rights group, called Maloney’s election “an important milestone for LGBTQ people.”

“With Congressman Maloney in leadership, LGBTQ people across the country will have a seat at the table and a strong advocate to fight for us and make progress on key issues of equality,” David said in a statement. “Maloney’s historic election will encourage more LGBTQ candidates to run for Congress, including and especially underrepresented members of our community, including queer candidates of color, so we can achieve full representation of our diverse community.”

Maloney, 54, is one of seven openly LGBTQ people serving in the House of Representatives and one of nine in both the House and Senate. Next month, when the new congressional session starts, the current nine will increase to a record 11, when incoming Mondaire Jones and Ritchie Torres, both openly gay Black Democrats from New York, assume office.

A centrist choice

Maloney, a centrist from a Trump-friendly district in New York’s Hudson Valley region, was elected to lead the DCCC over Rep. Tony Cardenas of California in a 119-107 vote, according to a Democrat familiar with the voting. Cardenas, 57, is a four-term House lawmaker who has led Bold Pac, the fundraising arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Maloney will replace outgoing chairwoman Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois, who announced shortly after Election Day that she would not seek re-election.

The close election for the DCCC post underscores Democratic uncertainty over why they lost at least a dozen incumbents in last month’s voting, despite widespread expectations that they would gain perhaps 15 seats. No House Republican lost.

Progressives have blamed the party’s poor performance on inadequate digital campaigning, while moderates have faulted liberals for leaving Democrats vulnerable to GOP charges that they are all socialists who support defunding the police. The party’s candidates also performed worse than expected with moderates in suburban districts and Hispanic voters, especially in South Florida.

“I will work every day to improve our campaign operations, connect with voters across lines of difference, protect our incumbents, and expand our majority,” Maloney said in a statement after his victory.

While campaigning for his new post, Maloney promoted his ability to win in a competitive district, his fundraising connections and a five-month study he led of the campaign committee’s 2016 performance that resulted in structural changes.

“I did all this as a married gay man with an interracial family — the first, and until 2020 only, openly LGBTQ person ever elected to Congress in New York,” he wrote in a letter to colleagues. He added, “I know what it means to develop relationships with voters across lines of difference because I do it every day.”

Democrats went into the November elections with a 232-197 House majority, along with one independent and five vacancies. While they are assured of controlling the House again in the new Congress that convenes next month, they will have a far smaller majority. While a handful of races are still uncalled, their edge over the GOP currently stands at 222-208.

The 2022 election looms as a difficult one for House Democrats. Besides defending their slender majority, midterm congressional elections are historically difficult for the party that controls the White House, where Democratic President-elect Joe Biden is headed Jan. 20.

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