Fortuitously, however, Van Hollen has landed: He will serve as the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, a position that will carry added importance in the next Congress.
Van Hollen won the job this past Wednesday, as Democrats voted on their caucus leaders for next year. He was the only committee leader to be decided that day, along with Pelosi, Hoyer, Clyburn, Caucus Chairman John Larson, and Vice Chair Xavier Becerra--the rest of the committee slots will be filled after Thanksgiving--and was included, in the voting schedule and in the post-vote announcements, as part of the leadership club. Van Hollen won the position with a unanimous vote of the incoming Democratic caucus. He had not sat on the committee during the previous four years.
Pelosi helped pave the way for Van Hollen to secure his new role, as did, significantly, outgoing Budget Chairman John Spratt of South Carolina, who lost his seat in the 2010 wave.
One would think that, if the 2010 midterms had lessened Van Hollen's standing in anyone's eyes, it would be those of defeated incumbents. But Spratt, who has long been a target of Van Hollen's counterparts at the National Republican Congressional Committee, endorsed Van Hollen to succeed him on the committee, just eight days after losing his own seat despite the DCCC's efforts. Spratt had served in the House for 28 years.
In fact, Van Hollen doesn't seem to be collecting any blame for the massive losses of 2010, despite Democrats losing control of the House on his watch.
"I have, since the election, talked to virtually every Democrat who won or lost, and I have yet to hear from a single one who said the DCCC should have dome more, should have done it differently," Congressman Steve Israel, who served as Van Hollen's recruitment chairman and will now take the reins as DCCC chair*, told me the weekend after Election Day. "All of our candidates, win or lose, recognize that we did everything humanly possible, that Chris did everything humanly possible."
Spratt wasn't the only defeated Democrat to voice support for Van Hollen after Election Day.
"While we came up short during a hard fought election cycle, it wasn't because of a lack of support or hard work on Rep. Van Hollen's part," said Arizona Congressman Harry Mitchell, a Blue Dog who lost on Election Day, when asked about Van Hollen's performance at the DCCC. "There is certainly a reason for us to be disappointed, but when you think about what was accomplished over the last four years, there are even more reasons to be proud. Chris went to bat for a number of us, and as a colleague, I remain grateful for his leadership."
Said one aide to a member who lost: "He worked 24/7. It was incredible. He was in constant communication with us and with other members and candidates."
Van Hollen is a creature of Washington. The son of a Foreign Service officer, he lived abroad in his early life but completed high school at Episcopal, got a Masters in public policy from Harvard, and earned a law degree from Georgetown. He served as a staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before going on to work for Maryland Governor William Donald Schaefer and later serving for 12 years in the Maryland General Assembly. He's seen as an excellent communicator, and his public personality is mild. He's not an aggressive rhetorician, or a populist, but a Washington gentleman.