- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Democratic National Committee formally tapped Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz as its new chairwoman Wednesday, opening a new chapter in the party’s history as it looks to regain some of the footing lost to Republicans in last year’s election.

In her acceptance speech, Mrs. Wasserman Schultz vowed to work every day to re-elect President Obama, win back the House and hold onto the Senate. And she promised to push back against the Republican approach to governance that has “failed America over and over” and is “out of step with America’s priorities.”

“The other side is powerful and well-funded, and they are working to reverse the progress Democrats have made,” she said, alluding to GOP efforts to repeal last year’s health care overhaul, restructure Medicare for the future and cut funding for Planned Parenthood.

“That’s why this election is so important to the future of our country and our party,” said Mrs. Wasserman Schultz, who will remain a member of Congress.

President Obama called to congratulate Mrs. Wasserman Schultz, whom he handpicked, saying that the Florida Democrat “embodies the core values we cherish as Democrats and Americans.”

Mrs. Wasserman Schultz takes the reins from Donna Brazile, the Democratic strategist who became the interim chairman after former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine stepped down to run for the seat being vacated by Sen. Jim Webb.

The mother of three now has the tough task of trying to put the party on solid footing heading into 2012, with Mr. Obama up for re-election and Republicans looking to solidify their power on Capitol Hill by seizing control of the Senate.

Asked about the election of the new chairwoman, Kirsten Kukowski, spokewoman for the Republican National Committee, wished Mrs. Wasserman Schultz “the best of luck.”

“With millions of Americans still looking for jobs, $4 a gallon gas, rising consumer-good prices, and efforts by Democrats to give Barack Obama a blank check to raise Washington’s spending, she certainly has her work cut out for her,” she said.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican and fellow Floridian, also wished the Democrat well, but suggested the deck is stacked against the Democrat.

“I will be the first to tell her that her efforts as head of the DNC will be in vain, and we will expand our GOP majority in 2012,” she said.

Still, political prognosticators say there’s room for some optimism on the Democratic side heading into the next election because the economy is improving, no one in the field of potential Republican candidates for president has caught fire and Mr. Obama could have up to $1 billion to spend on his campaign.

At the DNC meeting Wednesday, party officials and loyalists showered Mrs. Wasserman Schultz with compliments, chanting her name, and describing her as the “fighter from South Florida” and “a superwoman.”

“She’s a champion of children, a strong supporter of senior citizens and a warrior for women’s health,” Ms. Brazile said, noting that Mrs. Mrs. Wasserman Schultz is a cancer survivor and a mother of three.

Known for her fund-raising prowess, the hard-charging 44-year-old’s legislative and rhetorical record offers a glimpse of what’s likely to come. She’s been a vocal supporter of President Obama’s health care overhaul, and in recent weeks, she’s assailed Republicans for offering spending cuts that she contends would gut Medicare and jeopardize women’s health.

Isaac Wood, of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said Mrs. Wasserman Schultz will resonate with key constituencies for several reasons: She’s a mother, she’s Jewish and she’s from Florida, perhaps the most important swing state in the coming presidential election.

“The more women and minorities in top positions within the Democratic Party, the starker the contrast with Republicans, who seem poised to nominate yet another white male for president in 2012,” Mr. Wood said.