As Robert Caro’s history tells it, LBJ failed to take John Kennedy seriously as a presidential contender for the 1960 election until it was too late. Johnson, after all, was the Senate majority leader — how could he be outmaneuvered by a senator of lesser rank?
Some Pennsylvania Democrats are about to make the same mistake of overlooking potential contenders when it comes to the open Senate seat being vacated in 2022 by Republican Pat Toomey.
The known short list for Democrats who might be interested in running for that seat include Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.
Other rumored names include Reps. Conor Lamb and Scott Conklin, and State Treasurer Joe Torsella, although one would think Torsella’s recent defeat might change the calculus for his odds.
That’s a long list of men at a time when women have been gaining ground in Congress for both parties recently.
That’s why none of those Democratic contenders should be overlooking Rep. Chrissy Houlahan as far as the party primary goes.
Gender is a good place to start for why the Chester County Democrat will run.
Pennsylvania has never had a female U.S. senator, so her campaign will ask voters to help her make history. That pitch alone could help her peel off suburban Republican moderate women who might like to see another glass ceiling smashed.
The best reason right now, however, is her fundraising war chest.
As Delaware Valley Journal previously reported, Houlahan had $3 million cash on hand at the end of the third quarter this year. She may not be a household name or a frequent contributor on cable television, but that figure puts her in the top 5 percent of House members for cash on hand.
It positions her alongside an upper crust of powerful House figures from both parties, like Republican Jim Jordan ($4.2 million cash on hand) or New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ($4 million on hand).
Consider that Sen. Bob Casey raised $21 million for his 2018 campaign. Houlahan has 15 percent of that total already in the bag. The closest congressional competition she has is fellow Rep. Brendan Boyle, who finished the third quarter with $1.3 million cash.
Besides just having a nice head start, the numbers signal to party insiders and national powerbrokers she’s adroit at the most crucial skill needed in politics: fundraising. It also shows she doesn’t burn through cash foolishly.
Houlahan joined the “Problem Solvers Caucus,” a bi-partisan group of representatives dedicated “to finding common ground on many of the key issues facing the nation,” according to the caucus’ website.
That’s a move that can sometimes rankle party leaders and create friction with other hardliners. But if you’re running for Senate, it’s a quick way to lay claim to being a moderate Democrat — the kind who apparently voted for Joe Biden in 2020 but helped Republicans win in down-ballot races like treasurer and auditor general.
Finally, Houlahan is an Air Force veteran, with veterans generally being a group Democrats have determined to better with, and have. Notice how Tulsi Gabbard broke through the bottom tier of candidates in the Democratic presidential race.
Although there’s debate as to how important the veteran credential can be when it comes to voters finally pulling the lever, it still imparts an aura of service, an understanding of the military and veterans issues, and oftentimes voters see veterans as more authoritative on foreign policy. She’s currently running legislation to address the continuing crisis of veteran suicides.
For the political-weary populace, perhaps it feels too soon to be discussing the 2022 Senate race. But for the people who are serious about running, they know the race starts now, especially when it comes to beating in-party rivals.