Peters tapped to lead Senate Democrats’ campaign arm
Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan will chair the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2022 as Democrats seek to protect their fragile 50-50 majority in the chamber.
Peters, who is coming off his own competitive reelection in which he narrowly won a second term against a well-funded challenger, will be tasked with leading the committee in what is expected to be a tumultuous first midterm election for the party with tenuous control over all levers of power in Washington.
The 2022 Senate map provides an equal dose of opportunities and challenges for Democrats. They’ll have to defend newly elected senators in Georgia and Arizona, as well as first-term incumbents in Nevada and New Hampshire, while also looking to go on the offensive in places such as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, two of which are already open seats with GOP senators set to retire.
Peters, who was first elected in 2014 in the same year Democrats lost their last Senate majority, said in an interview Thursday he plans to lean on his experience winning during a challenging midterm environment — when an unpopular former President Barack Obama was still in the White House and Democrats were wiped out nearly everywhere. He declined to address whether the party would continue its aggressive posture to back candidates in open primaries and said Democrats’ issue set will be focused on pandemic response, reviving the economy, affordable health care and jobs.
“A midterm election will really turn on that. The turnout is going to be different: You have a different electorate, but ultimately it’s going to be the quality of the candidates that we’re running,” Peters said, calling the 2022 class “outstanding incumbents.”
“I have always been a believer in the notion that good policy is also good politics — and that when we execute good policy over the next two years, we will demonstrate to the American people that we know how to govern, and our senators will demonstrate that they are battlers for their states,” he added.
Peters is an unconventional choice to head the DSCC, coming off a major reelection fight rather than gearing up for one in a future cycle, as is most often the case. But his state’s similarities to the top battlegrounds of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania gives him close connections to the 2022 map. Peters initially began considering the role last year after several colleagues, including Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, approached him about it, according to Democrats familiar with the process. He also had conversations with past chairs, including Sens. Jon Tester of Montana and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, the outgoing DSCC chair who is also on the ballot in 2022.
Peters’ first conversation with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer as in mid-December, according to a Democrat familiar with the process, and he also spoke with incumbents up for reelection next year. He ultimately accepted the role officially after President Joe Biden’s inauguration.
Schumer called Peters a “hardworking, disciplined and effective member” of the Senate in a statement announcing the decision.
“The DSCC is strongly dedicated to working with grassroots organizations to mobilize voters, and with someone like Gary at the helm, who is battle-tested and understands firsthand what it takes to win challenging battleground races, Senate Democrats will be well-positioned to continue to win and get results that will improve the lives of millions of Americans,” Schumer said.
It will likely be several weeks before the full committee staff is in place, a process that was delayed by the January runoffs in Georgia that gave Democrats the majority. Christie Roberts, who was a senior adviser at the DSCC last cycle and played a critical role in the Georgia races, is expected to be the executive director of the committee, though it has not yet been officially announced, according to multiple people familiar with the matter.
Given that Democrats now control the Senate, protecting incumbents — particularly two special-election winners, Sens. Mark Kelly of Arizona and Raphael Warnock of Georgia — will be Peters’ top task.
There are likely to be challenges in the offensive states, with a wave of interested candidates expected to flood crowded and competitive primaries. The DSCC took an aggressive stance in the 2020 cycle, endorsing a candidate in nearly every primary — and in some cases intervening financially to help lift their preferred nominees, to the frustration of liberals and unsuccessful candidates.
Peters declined in the interview to say whether the committee would take a similar approach in primaries next year.
“I think it’s context-dependent. It’s still too early to know,” he said. “Ultimately our goal is to win, and we will do whatever it takes to win. But as to what strategy we’ll pursue, time will tell.”
Though midterms are generally fraught for the party in power, Peters said he thought Biden would be an asset for incumbents. Biden was a frequent surrogate for Democrats in 2018 and appeared in Georgia twice for the runoffs earlier this month that delivered Democrats the majority.
Peters, a former House member, first won his Senate seat in 2014 despite running in a wave year for Republicans. Some Democrats have privately expressed concerns because Peters ran behind Biden and was outraised by Republican John James several times during that race, though he ultimately won by nearly 2 percentage points.
Republicans were quick to jump on those points after Peters was officially announced. Chris Hartline, a spokesperson for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, called Peters “uninspiring” in a statement that also intentionally misnamed him as “Jerry Peters,” a continuation of the committee’s efforts to troll Peters when he was on the ballot in 2020.
“It won’t be an easy job. Defending the job-killing, tax-raising, open borders policies of the Radical Left while combating a primary challenger to Chuck Schumer will be tough to juggle,” Hartline said. “But we’re confident that [Gary] Peters will do whatever is needed to be done to help Republicans win back the Senate in 2022.”
Peters, in the interview, brushed off Republicans continuing to misname him in attacks.
“I don’t normally pay attention to the whining of losers,” he said. “They lost.”