Sen.-elect Chris Van Hollen, who will take over for Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski next year, will head the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for the next election cycle, putting him at the forefront of Democratic efforts to retain seats in what could prove a difficult midterm election year for the party.
Van Hollen, a Montgomery County congressman who cruised to victory last week in deeply blue Maryland, will also take a seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee -- a position that could help stem the loss of influence Maryland will feel when Mikulski retires.
Heading the party's Senate election efforts -- an unusual position for a freshman senator -- has the potential to also be a tall order. Democrats will be defending seats in several states in 2018 that Republican President-elect Donald Trump carried by sizable margins, such as Indiana, North Dakota and West Virginia.
"Chris Van Hollen was our first choice for DSCC chairman because of his talents, his work ethic, and his experience," Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the incoming Senate Minority Leader, said in a statement. "The map is tough for Democrats, but I have no doubt that Senator-elect Van Hollen is up to the task."
Democrats' fate will be tied largely to how well Trump carries out his first term in the White House.
Van Hollen led the equivalent organization in the House, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, for two cycles. After orchestrating the expansion of the party's House majority in 2008 -- and foreseeing a far more difficult election in 2010 -- Van Hollen initially said he did not want to lead the campaign committee for a second term.
Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, then the House speaker, urged him to stay on. The party lost dozens of seats that cycle and Republicans claimed the majority -- in large part a response to President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.
For Maryland, it is Van Hollen's spot on the Appropriations Committee that will be more important. Mikulski used her position as the top-ranking Democrat on the committee to secure federal money for NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, the Coast Guard Yard in Curtis Bay and, more recently, the proposed new headquarters for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
"Democrats in the Senate are the last line of defense between President-elect Trump and Washington Republicans, and so many of the values and priorities that Americans hold dear," Van Hollen said in a statement Friday. "I look forward to getting to work right away to defend American values, as well as fighting for my home state of Maryland by taking up Senator Mikulski's mantle on the Senate Appropriations Committee."
Maryland has two other appropriators in its small delegation to Washington, Republican Rep. Andy Harris and Democratic Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger -- both of Baltimore County.
Mikulski described the announcement as "good news for the nation and for my home state.
"He brings tremendous experience and skill to the job," she said in a statement. "Senator-elect Van Hollen will be an excellent advocate for meeting the day-to-day needs of Maryland's families and the long-range needs of the nation."