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House Democrats' campaigns chief loses re-election race in New York

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney's loss, under the weight of millions of dollars in GOP ads, will reignite a debate among Democrats over having vulnerable members lead their campaign arm.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, the head of House Democrats’ campaign arm responsible for protecting vulnerable incumbents in his party, lost his re-election race to Republican Mike Lawler, NBC News projects.

Maloney conceded the race in a phone call to Lawler earlier Wednesday, a spokesperson for Maloney's campaign said.

More than anything else, Maloney’s defeat is a symbolic victory for the GOP, particularly given that Democrats appeared to limit significant losses and dodge a "red wave" that many Republicans had predicted.

Maloney conceded after Democratic super PACs and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which Maloney leads, launched a last-minute rescue mission to try to save him by pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race in the final two weeks of the campaign.

Maloney, who had been traveling the country campaigning and raising cash for vulnerable colleagues, had to rush back to his Hudson Valley district to fight for his own political survival.

In the end, Maloney couldn't stave off an avalanche of GOP spending and attack ads from Lawler, a state assemblyman, which cast him as weak on crime for his past support for ending cash bail for those in prison.

In a briefing with reporters Wednesday, Maloney trumpeted his party’s strong showing on Election Day, declaring: “Last night, House Democrats stood our ground.” The results indicate “there’s still a beating heart to American democracy,” he said.

UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 8: Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., speaks during the House Democrats news conference in the Capitol on Tuesday, February 8, 2022.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., at the Capitol on Feb. 8.Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images file

While he acknowledged he is an extremely competitive person, Maloney said it wasn’t the time to sulk in his defeat.

“I don’t like to lose. But my opponent won this race, and he won it fair and square. And that means something. And so I’m gonna step aside, and I had a good run,” Maloney told reporters.

“Not going to whine about it. I’m going to do this the right way. And the right thing to do is to say the other guy won, to wish him well, and pledge my support and that’s what I’m doing,” he said.

“And I’m going to take pride in my service, and then I’m going to talk to my family about what comes next.”

Republicans celebrated the ouster of the Democrats' campaign chief.

"Mike’s victory just sent SHOCKWAVES across the country as he FIRED failed DCCC Chair Sean Patrick Maloney!!" GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., tweeted early Wednesday.

At an election night party in Washington overnight, House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy of California also piled on: "In New York, we defeated the Democrat campaign chairman, Sean Patrick Maloney, which will be the first time in over 40 years a DCCC chair lost his reelection."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., thanked Maloney in a statement Wednesday, crediting him with helping House Democrats exceed expectations Tuesday and calling him "an outstanding leader of the DCCC."

“Republicans may have gained a Pyrrhic victory with this race because it has clearly come at the expense of other possible Republican wins," Pelosi said.

Maloney’s ouster has larger implications for the House Democratic caucus: It closes the door on a possible bid by Maloney for a second term as DCCC chairman. And it will reignite a fierce debate among House Democrats about whether one of their vulnerable members should be put in charge of the campaign operation.

Two years ago, Democrats had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in the homestretch of the campaign to defend then-DCCC Chair Cheri Bustos of Illinois, another "front-line" member like Maloney. She survived her race for re-election but announced her retirement just months later.

Two California Democrats, Reps. Tony Cardenas and Ami Bera, have expressed interest in running for DCCC chairman in the 2024 cycle. Cardenas narrowly lost to Maloney in the race for campaign chairman two years ago, and Bera was one of Maloney's top lieutenants at the DCCC, in charge of protecting vulnerable incumbents.

Cardenas represents a deep-blue district in Southern California, while Bera has been targeted by Republicans in his Sacramento-area district.

Maloney, who was an aide in the Clinton White House, made history in 2012 as the first openly gay person elected to Congress from New York.

But he drew ire from fellow Democrats after New York's redistricting process this year when he decided to run in a neighboring district, the 17th, that was slightly more friendly to Democrats than his old 18th District. That decision forced freshman Rep. Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y., one of the first openly gay Black men in Congress, to run in a district miles away in New York City, where he failed to win his party's primary.

Moments after Maloney conceded, Jones tweeted a single word: "Yikes."

CORRECTION (Nov. 10, 2022, 11:12 a.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated what party holds an Illinois congressional district. Democrats hold Cheri Bustos’ seat in the 17th C.D.; she did not cede it to Republicans upon retiring.