WASHINGTON — The dust hasn’t settled from the 2012 election; in fact, votes are still being counted. But don’t tell that to Rep. Steve Israel, tasked with returning Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to the speakership one last time before retirement.
The New York Democrat and lifelong Mets fan has been preparing for 2014 since before the polls even closed on the 2012 campaign.
Welcome to the never-ending election.
“Literally on election night 2012, I was calling candidates who fell short and urging them to run in 2014," Israel told BuzzFeed in an interview Tuesday. "We literally started recruiting before the election was over."
“You don’t win by taking time off,” added the Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, who’s returning for a second tour of duty in the 2014 election.
Indeed, just ask Rep. Scott DeJarlais, a harshly conservative Tennessee Republican the DCCC targeted for much of the 2012 election, hammering him repeatedly for having mistresses and allegedly pressuring women he was involved with to have abortions.
DeJarlais may have hoped his victory earlier this month would have bought him a respite from the hits. But he would have been wrong: The DCCC and outside groups have continued to hound him and his leadership.
On Wednesday, Israel will hold the first in a series of recruitment meetings designed to replenish his ranks for what is sure to be an exceedingly difficult task — wresting control of the House from Republicans in a non-presidential year and with a Democrat sitting in the Oval Office.
It’s a recipe for a electoral disaster, but the affable New Yorker doesn’t seem particularly fazed.
And as Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Israel isn’t taking anything, or any amount of time, for granted when it comes to the 2014 election.
“The game's not over until the bottom of the ninth, and even then you go for extra endings,” Israel said, laughing that, “If you grew up like I did, even if you’re up 20 runs you don’t stop man.”
So to that end, not only is Israel keeping the foot on the gas in his traditional campaign operations, he’s expanding his repertoire, turning the DCCC into a full-time rapid response and messaging operation.
“There’s a time for campaigning, and there’s a time for governing. But we intend to stress accountability in both times,” Israel said, pointing to the unfolding fiscal cliff fight as an opportunity for his operation to get involved in policy fights that are traditionally the territory of leadership offices and committee chairs.
On Tuesday he started that push, blasting out press releases to media in 50 Republican districts slamming lawmakers for their position on the fiscal cliff and tying them to Grover Norquist, the American for Tax Reform chief Democrats have spent two decades turning into a caricature.
“Will Congressman Dan Benishek break with Grover Norquist or continue protecting tax breaks for millionaires at the expense of Michigan middle class families?” reads one release targeting the Michigan Republican.
“With the fiscal cliff looming in just 35 days, Congressman Dan Benishek has a simple choice: Stand with middle class families or ultra conservative lobbyist Grover Norquist and his pledge to protect tax breaks for millionaires,” Israel lieutenant Jesse Ferguson says in the release.
The release wouldn’t be remarkable in an election year — or even three or four months into the new congressional term. But coming less than a month since the last election, the attacks point to the reality that there are no down times in modern American politics.
“We’re going to be aggressive,” Israel warned. “We’re not going to rest while they continue to pursue ill-advised policies.”
John Stanton is a senior national correspondent for BuzzFeed News. In 2014, Stanton was a recipient of the National Press Foundation’s 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting of Congress.
Contact John Stanton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.