California congressman Tony Cárdenas launches bid to lead House Democrats’ campaign arm

Congressman Tony Cárdenas speaks into a microphone at a lectern
“The work to win back the seats we lost and expand our Democratic Caucus begins today,” Rep. Tony Cárdenas of Pacoima said in a letter to fellow House Democrats on Friday.
(Ethan Miller / Getty Images)

Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Pacoima) is seeking to run House Democrats’ campaign arm in the 2024 election cycle, likely pitting two Californians against each other for the post.

Cárdenas announced his plans Friday in a letter to fellow House Democrats, with control of the chamber still too close to call.

“No matter the outcome of this election, we defied expectations,” he wrote. “We beat conventional wisdom, outperformed in districts everywhere, and showed that our power is with the people.”


He went on to thank outgoing Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Sean Patrick Maloney, crediting the New Yorker and his team for helping avert a red wave in Tuesday’s midterm election even as Maloney lost his own seat to his GOP challenger.

Despite ousting an active DCCC chief for the first time in 40 years, Republican congressional candidates fell short of their leaders’ expectations. Though they’re still favored to win the House, a planned election night victory speech from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) was delayed for several hours after unexpectedly strong performances from Democratic candidates.

The Bakersfield congressman’s ideological flexibility, fundraising prowess and management of Donald Trump have helped him hold House Republicans together as they head into the midterm elections. Now he’s on the verge of gaining the prize he has long desired.

Oct. 29, 2022

“In the coming weeks, we will make time to figure out how we can do better,” Cárdenas said. “But the work to win back the seats we lost and expand our Democratic Caucus begins today.”

Rep. Ami Bera (D-Elk Grove) is also interested in leading the campaign group, though he has not declared his intentions.

“As there are many undecided races and recounts likely to take place, Rep. Bera is doing everything he can to help ensure Democrats retain their current majority in the House,” his spokesman Travis Horne said in a statement to The Times. “As DCCC Frontline Chair, Rep. Bera is speaking with Members about what went right and improvements that can be made as we head into the next cycle.”

Cárdenas’ letter highlighted his campaign travel this cycle and the $800,000 he’d raised for or donated to other Democrats. He said he wanted “to grow our caucus by charting a new course rooted in your strategic input, collective political experiences, and battle-tested campaign expertise,” arguing that candidates themselves are the experts on how to win their districts.


He also wrote that when he led the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ campaign arm, BOLD PAC, it “raised record-breaking funds every cycle” for a total of more than $35million in six years; increased membership within the Hispanic Caucus; and supported over 150 non-Latino members and candidates for the first time.

In a caucus long dominated by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) and Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), the campaign committee post is often seen as a launchpad to higher positions. Past chairs include Rahm Emanuel, who became White House chief of staff, Chicago mayor and U.S. ambassador to Japan; and two current senators, Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.).

More recently, the chairs have been locked in competitive races themselves. Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) won reelection by 4 percentage points when she led the committee in 2020. Republicans gained 14 seats that cycle despite President Biden winning the White House and Democrats winning control of a 50-50 Senate.

Bustos didn’t seek reelection this year. But Maloney, who defeated Cárdenas to win the DCCC post two years ago, did run, and has conceded his race to Republican Mike Lawler. Maloney had drawn criticism from fellow Democrats after New York’s redistricting for
running in a district more aligned with fellow Democratic Rep. Mondaire Jones. Jones lost in a crowded primary after running in a different district to avoid challenging Maloney.

Cárdenas’ allies say his profile as a hardworking lawmaker who understands the diversity of Hispanics and other voters of color would be an asset in a presidential cycle in which Donald Trump, who made inroads with Black and Hispanic voters, is expected to launch a third White House campaign.

Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) said Cárdenas would prioritize diversity and inclusion at every level, including staffing, recruitment and donors. She praised him for helping groups including the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and the Democratic Women’s Caucus fill their coffers.


“We need someone with his type of experience and the ability to build relationships at the top of the DCCC,” Kelly said.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) said it would be important to have a committee leader who will engage with Hispanic voters early, often and in a nuanced way as Republicans continue to try to make gains with them. He also said Cárdenas benefits from being in a safe Democratic seat, particularly after Republicans have targeted the committee’s chairs in recent cycles.

“Last time he ran, he got very, very, very, very close,” Cuellar said of Cárdenas. “And I think he’s going to win this time.”

House Democrats are expected to hold internal leadership elections on Nov. 30, though it’s unclear whether any of the top positions will be open. Neither Pelosi nor her top lieutenants have
announced their intentions since Tuesday’s election, though Pelosi previously said this would be her last term as Democratic leader.

She recently told CNN the assault on her husband last month would factor into her decision.