- - Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a congresswoman from South Florida and a key White House supporter, has been chosen as the next head of the Democratic National Committee.

President Obama chose the four-term lawmaker to succeed Tim Kaine, who earlier Tuesday announced that he would seek a Senate seat in Virginia.

The move elevates Mrs. Wasserman Schultz to a crucial role as Mr. Obama looks toward a re-election campaign that will use the DNC to define his likely Republican rivals.

In an email to supporters Tuesday evening, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said Mr. Obama chose Mrs. Wasserman Schultz because of her “tenacity, her strength, her fighting spirit and her ability to overcome adversity.”

“No one should have any doubt that Debbie will work hard to strengthen our party and our country,” Mr. Biden said.

Although Mrs. Wasserman Schultz backed Hillary Rodham Clinton during the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries, she quickly became a favorite Obama surrogate for the general election in the crucial swing state of Florida, which Mr. Obama won.

“I couldn’t have gotten through ‘08 in Florida without her, and she’s been there every step of the way through the first term,” said Steve Schale, a Tallahassee-based political consultant who ran Mr. Obama’s Florida operation.

“She is a tireless advocate, she’s loyal, but she’s not a soldier, she’s a leader,” he said.

As DNC chairwoman, she is expected to serve as a fierce critic of the yet-unformed Republican field of potential challengers to Mr. Obama.

Yet she faces challenges at the committee she inherits.

The DNC remains almost $18 million in debt as of the end of February. The committee spent heavily in an effort to defend majorities in the U.S. Senate and House, and while Sen. Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, remains majority leader, Republicans won a majority in the House and Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, fell from the speaker’s role.

The committee also shed staff in recent weeks, trying to rein in spending and rebuild its bank accounts.

A rising star in Democratic politics, Mrs. Wasserman Schultz helped raise millions for the committee during previous election cycles.

In March 2009, the mother of three announced that she had breast cancer. She underwent a double mastectomy.

Debbie approached cancer the way she approached everything else in her life - head on, 100 miles per hour and never give up,” Mr. Schale said.