WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Tuesday turned to a young, rising Democratic female star from one of the nation's biggest swing states to chair the Democratic National Committee as he kicked off his re-election campaign.
Obama's choice of Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz — a prolific fundraiser and passionate campaigner — is a recognition of her political skills, and Florida's clout in the presidential election. The state will have 29 Electoral College votes by 2012, the biggest up-for-grabs state in the nation.
Wasserman Schultz had been one of the top contenders — along with former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland — to head the DNC after current chair and Obama ally Tim Kaine announced that he was stepping down to run for an open Senate seat from Virginia.
Wasserman Schultz takes the DNC's helm as Obama readies for a bruising re-election campaign. She's a frequent TV commentator for Democratic causes, and she quietly battled breast cancer in 2008 while keeping her job as a congresswoman and national Democratic party fundraiser. She didn't tell anyone outside a small circle of family and friends until she'd recovered.
Vice President Joe Biden, in an email to supporters, said Obama took note of Wasserman Schultz's "tenacity, her strength, her fighting spirit and her ability to overcome adversity" in selecting her for the top party post.
"No one should have any doubt that Debbie will work hard to strengthen our party and our country," Biden said.
Wasserman Schultz, 44, was first elected to Congress in 2004. She earlier had served in the state House of Representatives and Senate in Florida. Though she backed Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries in 2008, she was an enthusiastic campaigner for Obama and was already a vice chair of the DNC.
A close friend of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona Democratic congresswoman who was shot in the head in Tucson in January, Wasserman Schultz traveled to the state with Obama later that month to visit Giffords. Wasserman Schultz has helped raise money for the congresswoman's 2012 re-election efforts and, along with Democratic Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state and Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, has helped keep Giffords' office operation running.
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