President Barack Obama has chosen Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) as the new chair of the Democratic National Committee, top Democratic sources said Tuesday.
Wasserman Schultz, 44, was chosen for her strength as a fund-raiser and as a television messenger, and for her clout in the crucial swing state of Florida, the sources said.
She will succeed Tim Kaine, who announced earlier Tuesday that he will run for U.S. Senate from Virginia.
The final choice came down to Wasserman Schultz and former Ohio governor Ted Strickland, the sources said.
Wasserman Schultz becomes the third female DNC chief in history and the first in over 15 years.
The choice of Wasserman Schultz over Strickland represents a party head whose strength will be in rallying the base rather than reaching out to heartland swing voters.
It also heads off the possibility of a revolt by the party’s base over abortion issues: Wasserman Schultz is a strong supporter of abortion rights, whereas Strickland’s record on the issue is mixed.
The congresswoman is beloved by the Democratic rank and file for her aggressive, outspoken advocacy for liberal points of view. She’s frequently deployed as a surrogate, particularly to groups of women and Jewish voters.
Democratic consultant Karen Finney, a former DNC communications director, called Wasserman Schultz “a fantastic choice.”
“She will be great, particularly as we head into the re-elect, because she is a smart, tough woman and both an effective advocate and fundraiser for the Democratic Party,” Finney said.
A four-term member from the Ft. Lauderdale area, Wasserman Schultz has moved aggressively to rise in the party ranks, but her attempt to take over as Democratic Congressional Committee Chair was stymied last year.
She’s faced personal adversity in recent years, too, after being diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing major surgery in 2008. She underwent seven operations without revealing she was being treated even to friends until afterward, keeping up her congressional schedule all the while.
Strickland was seen as the safe pick, but some prominent Democratic women grumbled after his name was floated, suggesting that Obama needed a high-profile woman associated with his re-election bid.
Wasserman Schultz will face a challenge in juggling the chairmanship with her congressional responsibilities and her own reelection campaign.
In 2010, she raised nearly $2 million, easily winning reelection in her strongly Democratic district with 60 percent of the vote. She ended the cycle with $420,000 in her campaign account.
Democratic insiders said she was passed over for the DCCC position because of a split with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Yet she still was one of the congressional committee’s top fundraisers, bringing in more than $5 million.